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OSR/older D&D and XP from gold - is there a "proper" alternative?

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Hello

So I'm looking into the Spiked Gobling Punch system (itself based on GLOG, itself based on older editions of D&D, a simple yet very intriguing system, esp magic) and one of the (to me) striking elements is that you don't get XP for killing monsters, but from gold. The logic is that your characters aren't going in the dungeon (or other adventurish things) to kill monsters - they are going in there to get treasure. This encourages the players to favor cunning over brawn and leads to better play. I'm given to understand that this feature is not unique to GLOG but is how it was done in older editions (I started playing with 2nd ed).

I really do agree that killing the monsters shouldn't be the objective. And I really think that cunning over brawn is *good*. There is no need to force battle, it will happen sooner or later anyway. Monsters as XP can really distort the game.

buuuuut

I'm kind of bothered by gold as the source of XP, because it too can distort the game! It encourages PCs stealing and hiding treasure from each other - if you palm that golf-ball-sized diamond and don't share it, you might have just gone up 2 levels. Not all adventuring should be about money. And what you learn from an adventure isn't just about the reward.

It can also lead to logic-defying situation. If two groups go into an identical barrow, and at the end of one there is a small copper bowl worth 5 gp, the party made xp... but if the other groups - having faced the same traps and the same monsters - find at the end a 50 pound bejeweled golden bowl worth 10 000 xp, they somehow learned 2 000 more than the unlucky people who found the dinky bowl? A group of hero that repels a week long zombie siege in an abandoned tower might gain nothing, while others who rob a fat merchant might bet 500 XP for a lazy heist. This isn't right.

Lastly it can put odd constrains on the GM, as the power and advancement of the heroes is now directly tied on monetary reward. If the GM wants to run some kind of gritty game with low monetary reward where the heroes are constantly poor... they won't level up. Conversly, if the party is going to find a huge sum for plot reason... probably a bad idea too.

So... what why I don't like it. What I would like to learn is if there are good alternatives that are "osr/old school appropriate" to gold as XP out there?

thanks,
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
XP is an incredibly useful tool for encouraging desired player behavior, to the point that I believe “what am I going to award XP for?” is just an important a question when planning a campaign as “what are the themes?” Want a campaign with a lot of fights to the death? Give XP for killing monsters. Want a campaign where fighting is common, but players let fleeing enemies escape? Give just as much XP for routing monsters as for killing them. Want a campaign where conflict is common but characters favor diplomatic solutions whenever possible? Give XP for enemies defeated, but give more XP for resolving conflicts without violence. Want a campaign where fighting is a last resort? Don’t give XP for combat, but give it for treasure earned. Want a campaign where the characters prioritize the mission above all else? Only give XP for completed quests. Want a campaign where exploration is the primary focus? Give XP for new points of interest discovered.

Once you understand that players will always find and exploit the optimal strategy for earning XP, you can easily encourage whatever style of play you want simply by rewarding it with XP.
 

I'm pretty sure that, if you choose to go that route, the DM is supposed to design the dungeon like it was an old video game where the players are going for the high score. It's your job to make sure that GP/XP awards are appropriate for how hard they are to reach. The best treasure is found above a pit of spikes, and if you botch the jump then you die.

If you want to run a game where characters advance more quickly than their wealth would dictate (and you don't want to just change the XP charts), or if you want to roll randomly for treasure without penalizing advancement, you can normalize the amount of XP gained per GP found.

For an easy example, let's say that you want the party to gain a level if they find everything in this dungeon. You then roll randomly for each bit of treasure (or place the amounts you think are appropriate), and equate that to the amount of XP required to gain a level. If the dungeon only contains 300 copper, but it takes 6000 XP to gain a level, then each copper found would award 20 XP to the party.
 

amethal

Adventurer
I'm kind of bothered by gold as the source of XP, because it too can distort the game! It encourages PCs stealing and hiding treasure from each other - if you palm that golf-ball-sized diamond and don't share it, you might have just gone up 2 levels. Not all adventuring should be about money. And what you learn from an adventure isn't just about the reward.
If you want "realistic" experience then I think your best bet is just to throw out the Gold=XP idea.

But if you just want to tweak the Gold=XP a bit, one rule that might work is that you only get XP from Gold when you spend it. It might then become obvious if one character has been spending too much.

However, if I was worried about the "stealing from the party" scenario I'd just ask my players not to do it. If, for some reason, that does not work for your group, then you could award XP on a group basis - everybody gets a share of the XP from the diamonds the thief has palmed, even though they don't officially even know they exist.

It doesn't really matter what basis you allocate XP - the gold is just a proxy here - so long as everyone knows what the basis is and can make rational "risk vs reward" decisions. A DM who stuck a 5 gp bowl at the end of the Tomb of Horrors without giving the players a reasonable chance to realise ahead of time that they were most likely risking their characters for nothing is a bad DM.

It very much doesn't work for all situations. I think you are better off not running certain adventures if they don't fit your XP system.

The characters in the Zombie Siege will be asking "what is in it for us?" and if the answer is "nothing" then don't run it. However, if the Zombie Siege is the direct result of the choices the characters have previously made - they were warned not to loot the tomb of the Necromancer, as the tomb's undead guardians are relentless in recovering pilfered goods - then it becomes fair game.

In my games, I don't bother with XP. Characters level after reaching milestones, and if they haven't reached a milestone for a while (for whatever reason, although getting sidetracked is the usual one) then they level anyway. It works for our group because there is no behaviour I am seeking to encourage - not even turning up for the session (absent players get full XP) as playing the game is considered to be its own reward.
 

Les Moore

Explorer
JMHO, but sometimes the DM should take a particularly lucky session, and wholesale out XP, rather than literally funding several levels
with one treasure hoard. This would take evil personal venality out of play. (Ancagalon's example: "PCs stealing and hiding treasure from each other")
One of the benefits to XP being tied to monsters is it avoids players over-leveling, upon finding a treasure hoard. PCs with experience, IME, without
player experience, are not very worthwhile.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
A group of hero that repels a week long zombie siege in an abandoned tower might gain nothing, while others who rob a fat merchant might bet 500 XP for a lazy heist. This isn't right.

Gain nothing? They can tell their story at public houses for tips, get paid as anti-zombie informants/consultants, and make cool zombie-story T-shirts, cereal boxes, and flamethrowers...merchandizing!
 

Jer

Adventurer
It encourages PCs stealing and hiding treasure from each other - if you palm that golf-ball-sized diamond and don't share it, you might have just gone up 2 levels. ,

This is why you give XP for gold, though - because this is the kind of game you want to play/run.

Not all adventuring should be about money. And what you learn from an adventure isn't just about the reward.
...
It can also lead to logic-defying situation.
...
Lastly it can put odd constrains on the GM ...

And all of that is exactly why the game has been moving away from giving out XP for gold for decades.

XP for gold is great if you want to run a "dungeon heist" game. A ragtag group of shady characters - each with their own area of expertise - are brought together through their connections because the owner of a mysterious map needs a crew to help him recover a fabulous lost treasure that is held in the ruined tower of the mad wizard Yrag-Xagyg. In a game like that - where the story is the heist - giving out XP for gold and encouraging paranoia and backstabbing amongst the crew makes perfect sense.

Once you go beyond that and start using D&D as a more generic "fantasy story simulator" you need to rethink your incentives. If you want to encourage teamwork, you don't want to reward stealing from other PCs. if you want to encourage heroic action, you'll want to reward the folks who dive into the fray. If you want to encourage cleverness, you'll want to hand out something immediately as a reward when the players are clever, etc.

Or you might want to go full-on simulation and think about XP in a more literal fashion as "what it takes to learn". In the old days we had a house rule in some of the skill-based games we used (Torg comes to mind, though there were others) that you could only spend experience points to raise skills if you failed a certain number of times when you used the skill - after you hit that threshold you could pay to raise the skill and then start counting again. Because the idea was that it was only through failure that you really learn something - succeeding just shows you already know how to do it, failing is when you can think about what you're doing wrong and how to fix it next time. (Of course that wasn't about earning XP as much as about spending it - but you could do something similar. In the Apocalypse Engine games you only earn XP when you try to do something and fail, so there's at least one game engine out there that uses that as a measure).

So there are a lot of alternatives out there. Now you ask for OSR/old school appropriate alternatives and a LOT of that depends on what exactly YOU mean by OSR/old school. Because everyone seems to have their own definition of it. The way you choose to line up incentives for XP definitely impacts how your game feels - to me a "true" old school dungeon delve involves party backstabbing and grubbing for coins in a hole in the ground, so XP for gold is the only way to go to get that feel. If that's not what old school means to you, then you need to think about lining up incentives for party activities. What are the "core activities" you think constitute an old school game? Once you've named them, you'll have a pretty good idea for what you should be rewarding with XP when the PCs are doing them.
 

Les Moore

Explorer
I'm not a real fan of the "gold for XP" regimen, because RPGs are fashioned after real life, to a great degree. And no amount of money can buy
experience, in real life. Or look at the adventurers who delve for six or eight expeditions and come up relatively empty-handed, each time. Are
they to hit paydirt, on the 10th attempt, and suddenly jump 8 to 11 levels? IMO they should be gradually leveling, awarded XP by the DM. This also gives the player the chance to max the character properly, by vetting at each level.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I'm not a real fan of the "gold for XP" regimen, because RPGs are fashioned after real life, to a great degree. And no amount of money can buy experience, in real life.
XP for killing enemies isn’t particularly “realistic” either. And at any rate, not everyone considers realism a high priority in D&D.

Or look at the adventurers who delve for six or eight expeditions and come up relatively empty-handed, each time. Are they to hit paydirt, on the 10th attempt, and suddenly jump 8 to 11 levels? IMO they should be gradually leveling, awarded XP by the DM. This also gives the player the chance to max the character properly, by vetting at each level.
Why would you design your adventure that way if you’re using gold as XP? It’s entirely possible to distribute gold gradually throughout a campaign the same way it is to distribute monsters.
 

The last time I ran 1e, I stressed that all XP is divided equally amongst the PCs, always. This was in part caused by the person playing a barbarian declaring their intent to break all the magic items for XP and also to prevent that sort of backstabbing.
 


Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Why would you design your adventure that way if you’re using gold as XP? It’s entirely possible to distribute gold gradually throughout a campaign the same way it is to distribute monsters.

But that's the thing, it *forces* the GM to do this. It's adding a constraint.
 

This encourages the players to favor cunning over brawn and leads to better play. I'm given to understand that this feature is not unique to GLOG but is how it was done in older editions (I started playing with 2nd ed).
XP for gold was an option in 2e, as well, IIRC, but, yes, it was pretty standard before that. In 3e, ironnically, you don't get xp for gold, but you can burn xp, via item creation, to save gold, and there was expected wealth/level, so there was still a link between gold & xp, just an indirect one...

I really do agree that killing the monsters shouldn't be the objective. And I really think that cunning over brawn is *good*. There is no need to force battle, it will happen sooner or later anyway. Monsters as XP can really distort the game.
You can give xp for avoiding monsters, or even not give xp (or give less) for fighting them. It doesn't make tons of sense, but little about xp does.


I'm kind of bothered by gold as the source of XP, because it too can distort the game! It encourages PCs stealing and hiding treasure from each other - if you palm that golf-ball-sized diamond and don't share it, you might have just gone up 2 levels.
Yes. That's "favoring cunning over brawn," right there.

It can also lead to logic-defying situation. If two groups go into an identical barrow, and at the end of one there is a small copper bowl worth 5 gp, the party made xp... but if the other groups - having faced the same traps and the same monsters - find at the end a 50 pound bejeweled golden bowl worth 10 000 xp, they somehow learned 2 000 more than the unlucky people who found the dinky bowl? A group of hero that repels a week long zombie siege in an abandoned tower might gain nothing, while others who rob a fat merchant might bet 500 XP for a lazy heist. This isn't right.
It's right if the system is about encouraging/rewarding acquiring treasure, not fighting. You would want to escape from the zombie siege and loot the ruins of the towns the zombies had alrady passed through, for instance, while the zombies go eat somebody else, you could then follow the zombies on their rampage, looting as they go. Heck, zombies are slow, you could precede them, sell fake 'protection from zombie' scrolls to the locals, and case any choice loot they may have left after buying them, to pick up after the zombies eat their brains.

Lastly it can put odd constrains on the GM, as the power and advancement of the heroes is now directly tied on monetary reward. If the GM wants to run some kind of gritty game with low monetary reward where the heroes are constantly poor... they won't level up. Conversly, if the party is going to find a huge sum for plot reason... probably a bad idea too.
In the past, it was 'find & retain for a time,' so you could have the huge sum blow right by them - stolen by other adventurers, required to raise half the party, or whaever other money pit occurs to you. Slower-acting or growing-equity money pits could keep the party poor while letting them level up.

Not all adventuring should be about money. And what you learn from an adventure isn't just about the reward.

So... what why I don't like it. What I would like to learn is if there are good alternatives that are "osr/old school appropriate" to gold as XP out there?
Old-school you got exp for combat as well as treasure, and it was not unusual to aware combat xp for avoiding a combat (back in the day, I did half exp for avoiding a fight, then if you avoided it again, 1/4, etc... with the balance if you ever finally ganked 'em).
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I think I have an acceptable solution.

The system I'm looking at (GLOG - rat on a stick edition) - proposes 1 xp per gp, and 200 xp to reach level 2.

So what I would do is that I would give XP per session, based on the rate of leveling up I want to see (say, 5 sessions) so 40 XP. A session where not much was done would have less XP - and a dead PC gets no XP, of course. There would be small bonus given in game for good role playing or great ideas.

I would *also* give XP for gold but at a reduced rate - say 10 or 20% of the 1 per 1 rate. This would still motivate the PCs to go get the treasure, but it wouldn't have such a big influence anymore. It seems best of both worlds.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
When your level primarily measures how good you are at fighting, getting better at fighting by surviving fights is a pretty realistic mechanic.
Except for the part where you see no improvement at all for huge stretches of time and then suddenly become significantly better all at once. Or the part where punching enough boars can somehow make you better at playing the lure (but actually playing the lute can’t).

All game mechanics are necessarily abstract and break down past a certain point. All “realism” in game mechanics is necessarily selective. It’s just a matter of what parts you’re ok with selecting.

But that's the thing, it *forces* the GM to do this. It's adding a constraint.
No more than XP for combat forces the GM to design campaigns to have consistent opportunities for violent conflict. All rules systems constrain design, it’s just a matter of what constraints are right for your purposes. Which is why, as I say, “what am I going to award XP for?” is as important of a question as “what are the themes of this campaign?”
 

Les Moore

Explorer
Players are pretty much going to "go for the gold" and fight monsters, anyway. This is like saying "it's cheating, to search the PHBs and manuals to try to figure out a way to maximize your character". Everybody tries to do this, even if they don't succeed.

The DM needs to find a way to award XP in a manner that's not going to over inflate any characters too suddenly.
 

Except for the part where you see no improvement at all for huge stretches of time and then suddenly become significantly better all at once.
That would be fairly realistic, with any skill. Most people don't improve significantly - to the point where you might notice it - on a day-to-day basis. You only really notice improvements when you consider a longer time scale.

That the game mechanics only reflect significant improvements is a testament to efficiency in design. Modeling insignificant improvements would be a waste of complexity.
All game mechanics are necessarily abstract and break down past a certain point.
Past a certain point, of course. In order to have a model which is as realistic as reality, it would have to be equally complex, and thus entirely unusable. A good model is one which provides useful data relative to its complexity.
Or the part where punching enough boars can somehow make you better at playing the lute (but actually playing the lute can’t).
If you assume that a character practices the lute in proportion to how many boars they punch, then it actually is reasonable to use boar conquest as a metric for lute skill advancement.

In case you've forgotten, the idea that you're using all of your skills on a regular basis is part of the fundamental basis for level-based skill progression. If that assumption doesn't hold, then it's incorrect of you to try and apply that model.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
That would be fairly realistic, with any skill. Most people don't improve significantly - to the point where you might notice it - on a day-to-day basis. You only really notice improvements when you consider a longer time scale.
But D&D characters don’t improve on “a longer timescale.” They improve literally overnight and all at once.

That the game mechanics only reflect significant improvements is a testament to efficiency in design. Modeling insignificant improvements would be a waste of complexity.
I’m not saying it isn’t smart design, I’m saying it isn’t realistic. And that’s ok! My entire point is that game mechanics don’t need to be realistic to be good.

Past a certain point, of course. In order to have a model which is as realistic as reality, it would have to be equally complex, and thus entirely unusable. A good model is one which provides useful data relative to its complexity.
Yes, and what is “useful data” depends on your purposes. XP for gold can be a useful model, even a more useful one than XP for enemies defeated, depending on what sort of game play you want to foster.

If you assume that a character practices the lute in proportion to how many boars they punch, then it actually is reasonable to use boar conquest as a metric for lute skill advancement.
Why would you assume that when that isn’t happening in the game though? Under XP for enemies defeated, a character can easily end up leveling up during the course of a single dungeon delve, before they’ve had a chance for downtime in which to practice non-combat skills.

In case you've forgotten, the idea that you're using all of your skills on a regular basis is part of the fundamental basis for level-based skill progression. If that assumption doesn't hold, then it's incorrect of you to try and apply that model.
You can talk about what ideas are an assumed part of the progression till you’re blue in the face, but if it isn’t reflected in the gameplay, it doesn’t matter. I could come up with a set of “assumptions” that handwave away the “unrealistic” parts of any system, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s unrealistic. Again, the question comes down to what unrealistic abstractions you’re willing to suspend disbelief for.
 

reelo

Adventurer
Xp for gold hails from a time when "emergent storytelling" was thing, a time of hexcrawl sandboxes and personal domains as an endgoal. Back during the days of BX, there weren't any metaplots to save the world from this or that evil overlord, it was all about clearing the dungeon, making it back to town, blowing some money on carousing, rinse and repeat, until you were rich and powerful enough to think about settling down. The sheer number of XP to reach name level in BX is insane if you consider how much xp the monsters are worth, and the gold cost to build your own stronghold is as well.
Xp for gold is perfect in such an environment. You get 1Xp for each gold (but only once you've managed to haul it back to town or some other secure location) and then again when you spend it. And it's not like dungeons and treasure hoards are so filled to the brim that uou level up twice in the same dungeon.

I find the concept quite good, especially since it encourages smart play.
 

But D&D characters don’t improve on “a longer timescale.” They improve literally overnight and all at once.
No, you're improving constantly over the period between gaining levels. Gaining a level simply marks the breakpoint where your improvement is significant, relative to the previous breakpoint.

If you could quantify the lute skill of a person in the real world, that value would improve constantly as long as they play or study, but the difference between 100 hours of practice and 102 hours of practice is not noticeable. The difference between 100 hours and 400 hours is noticeable. The breakpoint where improvement is noticeable would occur somewhere between 100 hours and 400 hours. For any given individual, their improvement might be noticeable after 120 hours, or 160 hours; or there might be multiple breakpoints, at roughly 40-hour increments.

That's how levels work. A character with 3001xp is more skilled than a character with 3000xp, but not significantly. Their improvement is not noticeable until they hit the next level. That is the underlying reality which the rules are meant to reflect.
You can talk about what ideas are an assumed part of the progression till you’re blue in the face, but if it isn’t reflected in the gameplay, it doesn’t matter. I could come up with a set of “assumptions” that handwave away the “unrealistic” parts of any system, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s unrealistic. Again, the question comes down to what unrealistic abstractions you’re willing to suspend disbelief for.
That sounds like you're playing it wrong, then. The designers assume that you're actually using the skills along the way, and the advancement is meant to reflect that usage. If you aren't using those skills, then... I dunno, your DM will figure it out.

You're entirely welcome to not care about the whole issue, if you find it unrealistic as a result of your violating the design assumptions, but that doesn't mean the logic extending from those assumptions is inherently faulty.
 

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