D&D General TSR to WoTC shift--OR--the de-prioritization on Exploration spells/classes

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
I don't know if I'd characterize it that way. I mean, yes, the various guidelines for non-combat XP awards were easy to overlook, and often relied on DM judgment calls (which I suspect led to arguments about whether or not a DM was assigning XP correctly), but I suspect that if applied liberally they had a fairly decent overall chance of replacing the XP-for-GP standard fairly well (though that's based purely on my eyeballing it).

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I can confirm this- I had a new player lose their mind when they realized I wasn't using the optional xp awards. They had showed up to my game with an Elven Ftr/Thf/MU and after the first session, I expressed my doubts about their survivability going forward. Even with my approach to multi-class hit points (when told to halve or divide hit points by three, I would track fractions of hit points to prevent unfair "salami slicing"), just the idea of needing 3750 xp just to get their 2nd Thief level and a third of a d6+1 hit points (15 Con) was worrying to me.

"Yeah, but I'll get xp awards for each of my classes, right?"

I blinked at him. "Say what now?"

I'd seen the optional rules in the DMG, but as far as I knew, none of the other DM's I played 2e with were using them, so I hadn't bothered to add them. So when I explain that, the guy was like "I can't play in your game, that's entirely unfair."

I was completely at a loss- if I was supposed to be doing this, why was it presented as an optional system? And tracking each action a character made, like tracking video game achievements today, felt artificial and strange to me. Of course, I soon realized that to achieve higher levels by slaying monsters along wasn't going to work- I used a lot of modules back in the day, and if a module said "for characters of 4th-7th levels" and the next one I had was "for characters of 5th-9th levels", I knew people were going to have to go up a level and a half or so during the first one, so I stopped using monster xp entirely, and just gave out large chunks of xp over the course of the adventure- I guess it was an early version of milestone leveling, thinking back on it.

No one seemed to have any problem with this approach, at least.
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
I can confirm this- I had a new player lose their mind when they realized I wasn't using the optional xp awards. They had showed up to my game with an Elven Ftr/Thf/MU and after the first session, I expressed my doubts about their survivability going forward. Even with my approach to multi-class hit points (when told to halve or divide hit points by three, I would track fractions of hit points to prevent unfair "salami slicing"), just the idea of needing 3750 xp just to get their 2nd Thief level and a third of a d6+1 hit points (15 Con) was worrying to me.

"Yeah, but I'll get xp awards for each of my classes, right?"

I blinked at him. "Say what now?"

I'd seen the optional rules in the DMG, but as far as I knew, none of the other DM's I played 2e with were using them, so I hadn't bothered to add them. So when I explain that, the guy was like "I can't play in your game, that's entirely unfair."

I was completely at a loss- if I was supposed to be doing this, why was it presented as an optional system? And tracking each action a character made, like tracking video game achievements today, felt artificial and strange to me. Of course, I soon realized that to achieve higher levels by slaying monsters along wasn't going to work- I used a lot of modules back in the day, and if a module said "for characters of 4th-7th levels" and the next one I had was "for characters of 5th-9th levels", I knew people were going to have to go up a level and a half or so during the first one, so I stopped using monster xp entirely, and just gave out large chunks of xp over the course of the adventure- I guess it was an early version of milestone leveling, thinking back on it.

No one seemed to have any problem with this approach, at least.
Yeah, I only played in one AD&D game that used the individual rewards.

However the other games tended to have generous rewards for things like good roleplaying and achievement of goals. There were some individual rewards, but oftentimes it was for the entire party.
 

Hussar

Legend
Based on my experiences, the idea that players explored to avoid combat because they got more XPs from treasure tends to be overstated. At most tables I played at, people still engaged in combat because it would get you more XPs than just making off with the treasure.
This very much mirrors my experience. You couldn't avoid most combats in most adventures because if you avoided the combat, you couldn't get the treasure. You needed to kill whatever was guarding that treasure first. And that meant you needed to kill all the stuff that you met on your way in to finding where that treasure was because you never knew where the treasure was.

It's not like you could get to the hoard without killing everything first.

I'm honestly curious how someone could get the treasure in something like Keep on the Borderlands - a formative adventure for a lot of gamers of the day, without killing everything. The caves were all laid out pretty similarly - enter the cave, defeat the guards, advance, meet more guards, advance, meet the boss which is standing on top of whatever is the main treasure of that cave.

Heck, even the play examples in the book never talk about avoiding combat.

And, add to that, the fact that after about 3rd level, AD&D combat was very, very friendly to the PC's. Monsters did piddling damage compared to PC HP, and often because they only had a base THAC0, could barely hit the PC's. Unless they included some sort of save or die effect (and to be fair, a lot of monsters did) you could pretty easily blast through combats with only minor losses.
 
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James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
This very much mirrors my experience. You couldn't avoid most combats in most adventures because if you avoided the combat, you couldn't get the treasure. You needed to kill whatever was guarding that treasure first. And that meant you needed to kill all the stuff that you met on your way in to finding where that treasure was because you never knew where the treasure was.

It's not like you could get to the hoard without killing everything first.

I'm honestly curious how someone could get the treasure in something like Keep on the Borderlands - a formative adventure for a lot of gamers of the day, without killing everything. The caves were all laid out pretty similarly - enter the cave, defeat the guards, advance, meet more guards, advance, meet the boss which is standing on top of whatever is the main treasure of that cave.

Heck, even the play examples in the book never talk about avoiding combat.

And, add to that, the fact that after about 3rd level, AD&D combat was very, very friendly to the PC's. Monsters did piddling damage compared to PC HP, and often because they only had a base THAC0, could barely hit the PC's. Unless they included some sort of save or die effect (and to be fair, a lot of monsters did) you could pretty easily blast through combats with only minor losses.
While avoiding combat wasn't presented as an option, I can see it as an emergent playstyle at some tables. Gary's own group presented him with problems when they would send hirelings into dungeons and let them take the brunt of the monsters and traps (the original Robilar's Gambit, you might say).

I didn't start trying to avoid combats until 3e, when the DMG made it clear that it wasn't defeating the enemies that gave you xp so much as it was encountering them. That led to quite a few arguments with other DM's, however, who very firmly held the belief that you shouldn't get xp for not fighting their monsters.
 

To me this seems like a lot of theorizing that doesn't reflect how D&D was actually played back in the day. Modern D&D games are extremely encounter light by comparison. That's been the main progression of the game over time: from a war-game-derived fighting game to a heavy role-play game where often entire sessions won't include a battle. Does anyone really want to argue that modern games are more combat-oriented than old school ones?
I don't know that there is any one way that dnd has been played, either back in the day or now (@Snarf Zagyg has had much to say about this in various posts). For example, from what I've read, the whole "munchkin" and "monty haul" criticisms came from adult 70s gamers flummoxed by the murder hobo power fantasies of pre-teens entering the hobby in the 80s. Thus, the divide between combat-oriented and narrative-oriented was there from the start.

Otherwise, I don't think it's a question of whether b/x or 5e (to take two examples) are more or less combat-oriented but rather is interesting to consider role of combat in each system. 5e, raw, awards xp for killing monsters and gives guidelines for how many resource-draining (e.g. combat) encounters a party can handle in an adventuring day. Most of the PC abilities, from core 5e to the current 1dnd playtest, center around what a character can do within combat, that is, after initiative is rolled. A session might not include a battle, but the next session might be 4-5 hours of combat. Whereas a b/x dungeon delve is adversarial--the dungeon does not want them there--but includes a variable amount of actual combat.

I'll also note that this same difference is present, to my knowledge, in war games, many of which were strategy games more so than games just about combat. I mean, one of the main influences of 70s wargaming is diplomacy, a game which is all about war but not about combat.

I would agree that the fiction around combat has changed, sort of. It's thankfully less popular now to run a Gygaxian settler-colonial simulator, and the parties adversaries in combat are villains who are justifiably villianous.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Yeah, I only played in one AD&D game that used the individual rewards.
none of the other DM's I played 2e with were using them

Huh! Just goes to show. I didn't know any DMs that didn't use them. Several DMs I knew, including me, passed keeping track of that stuff back to the players who handed in "XP Sheets" at the end of each adventure listing which awards they thought they might be entitled to which the DM then went through and figured out what qualified.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Huh! Just goes to show. I didn't know any DMs that didn't use them. Several DMs I knew, including me, passed keeping track of that stuff back to the players who handed in "XP Sheets" at the end of each adventure listing which awards they thought they might be entitled to which the DM then went through and figured out what qualified.
I think a lot of it had to do with the most experienced DM in our group not being transparent about how he handled xp. He never told us why we earned the numbers we did, so we never thought about it (at least, I know I didn't).

I do know that xp for gold wasn't used (to the point that when I found out about it, despite having played 1e, lol, I was surprised), but that had more to do with other DM's who didn't want mountains of gold in their campaigns.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
The last time I gave XP for gold (sometime during 2E) I was giving it at a 1/10th rate - so 1 XP per 10 GP, but it might actually have been 1xp/100gp. I probably have it written down somewhere. I also remember giving 1/4 the XP listed for magical items found (despite the rules saying you didn't) and that was split among all PCs that could use it, whether they ended up with it or not to avoid in-fighting over items someone wouldn't use but wanted the XP for.
 

Clint_L

Hero
In 5e, a lot of tables don't even use experience points any more. I haven't, for years. Defeating monsters is irrelevant, unless the monster was the Big Bad of the storyline or something. But I just do level-ups based on the number of games played, for the most part. Exploration, combat, puzzle-solving, role-play - all of it is treated the same.
 

MGibster

Legend
I've seen, many times, how modern D&D players look at the AD&D thief and think it's a woefully underpowered class. From a modern lens, I can see how that might be, because it's being viewed through the "combat all the time" lens. If the AD&D was forced to fight in every encounter, they wouldn't last long.
As I recall, the Thief in AD&D took the least amount of experience to level up precisely because they were the weakest class. Am I remembering wrong?
 

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