D&D 5E XP for Gold (without the XP)

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Inspired by old-school XP-for-gold systems and the leveling mechanic of the Soulslike family of games, I’m looking to try out the following mechanic in my next campaign in place of XP.

Training
A character can spend a downtime training to gain a level in a class. Doing so requires a suitable instructor. The training takes one week and costs an amount of gold determined by the level to be gained, as shown in the table below:

Level Gained Cost
250 gp
3100 gp
4200 gp
5300 gp
6-113,400 gp
12-1718,000 gp
18+168,000 gp

By this table, the cost to level up is about 1/4 the average GP value of a tier-appropriate treasure horde, multiplied by the number of treasure hordes you can expect to gain after the number of Medium encounters it would take to level up (assuming hordes are distributed evenly).

The intended effect of this is that basically all of the monetary treasure acquired from hordes goes towards leveling up, leaving individual monster treasure for spending money. Magic items are not factored in, so you can keep any that you find, or sell ones you don’t want for extra cash or to hasten your progress towards your next level. If you find a bigger-than-average horde, you might be able to level up a little sooner than “expected,” or have some extra pocket money to put towards some plate armor or whatever. If you find a smaller-than average horde, it might take you a little longer to reach the next level unless you dip into your savings. Likewise, if you have a larger-than-average party, it will take you longer to level up, and if you have a smaller-than-average party, you will be able to level up faster or have more spending money for adventuring gear. And of course, you have the option of prioritizing upgrading your gear over gaining levels.

It’s worth noting that this is intended for use in a sandbox campaign, where players have some ability to choose their level of challenge. In that context, going into higher-level areas to try to nab some treasure from higher-tier hordes has the potential to rocket you ahead if you can pull it off successfully, whereas sticking to lower-tier areas could slow your advancement to a crawl. But as long as you’re taking on level-appropriate challenges, you should level up at approximately the same rate as you would with XP in a game run strictly by the adventuring day and encounter budget guidelines, with some natural wobble due to the randomized nature of treasure hordes.
 

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TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
I have played around with systems like this for a long time. I like what you have here.

Would advancement--technically--only come from treasure and training? It keeps things very focused, but it might be, well "gamed", as you touch on. You may want to combine with some milestone tracking. You may also want to be sure that there is some space for leftover GP so the PCs have them.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
It seems possible to use the Players Handbook XP advancement table. Then have the gold equal the XP/5 (conveniently, the xp divided by 10 and times two).

So, a character that has aquired 60 gold reaches level 2.

Level: XP → gold
L1: 0 → 0g
L2: 300 → 60g
L3: 900 → 180g
L4: 2700 → 540g

Note, this is the total amount of gold ever accumulated by the character.



Meanwhile, the gold value of magic items might count toward leveling?
 

AnotherGuy

Adventurer
The question is (1) who is training persons into the teens and level 18+? Halastar looking for an apprentice, the spirit of Huma, a patron, a deity? AND (2) is also requiring payment

In my campaign world the capstone for ordinary folk is level 9. Something extraordinary needs to allow one to exceed that such as a Wish, being a clone, hit by a wave of divine energy, passing through a demiplane built on alien physics, awakened by making direct contact with the mind of an otherworldly being...etc
 

aco175

Legend
I have done training without great success, so I would be interested to see how it goes on your end. My main problem is that the PCs would gain enough XP to reach a new level and then have to stop things to go train or find someone. Some PCs would gain a level and the others not, so we would travel to find one for them. It led to pre-training a level to avoid stopping everything. Maybe doing away with XP and having it be downtime will work for you.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I have played around with systems like this for a long time. I like what you have here.
Thanks!
Would advancement--technically--only come from treasure and training? It keeps things very focused, but it might be, well "gamed", as you touch on.
That’s the idea, yeah. We’ll see how it goes but for now I see the “gamability” as a feature more than a bug. If players sneak into more dangerous areas than they’re “supposed to” at their level, trying to avoid combat in hopes of getting a big score, that’s exactly the sort of gameplay I’m hoping to encourage. And if they pull it off, I think they’ve earned that progress.
You may want to combine with some milestone tracking. You may also want to be sure that there is some space for leftover GP so the PCs have them.
The table is based on horde treasure alone, so there should be leftover GP coming from individual monster treasure as well. And, I intend to allow the sale of magic items, which aren’t accounted for in the table either. So the PCs should have some spare cash, unless they make the conscious decision to spend it all on more levels.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
It seems possible to use the Players Handbook XP advancement table. Then have the gold equal the XP/5 (conveniently, the xp divided by 10 and times two).

So, a character that has aquired 60 gold reaches level 2.

Level: XP → gold
L1: 0 → 0g
L2: 300 → 60g
L3: 900 → 180g
L4: 2700 → 540g

Note, this is the total amount of gold ever accumulated by the character.
I looked at doing it that way, but the numbers were pretty far off from what I calculated for average treasure horde values, which I was worried would mess with the pace of progression. My hope is that this table will result in leveling at pretty close to the same pace as XP would of awarded “by the book”.
Meanwhile, the gold value of magic items might count toward leveling?
I’d prefer that it doesn’t. One of my goals with this system is for players to have the option to prioritize character advancement over upgrading gear or vice-versa.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
The question is (1) who is training persons into the teens and level 18+? Halastar looking for an apprentice, the spirit of Huma, a patron, a deity? AND (2) is also requiring payment
One possibility is that the players decide to multiclass rather than seek out trainers of even higher level in their original class. Alternatively, they need to venture beyond the mundane world to find higher level trainers.
In my campaign world the capstone for ordinary folk is level 9. Something extraordinary needs to allow one to exceed that such as a Wish, being a clone, hit by a wave of divine energy, passing through a demiplane built on alien physics, awakened by making direct contact with the mind of an otherworldly being...etc
Yeah, I left the term “suitable instructor” deliberately vague, so maybe at high enough levels you need to seek out powerful supernatural entities to train you. Is it a little weird that these entities would charge gold to train the PCs? Yeah, maybe a bit. It’s ultimately a gameplay concession, and if it needs an explanation I’m sure it can be justified as like a sacrificial offering or some such.
 

AnotherGuy

Adventurer
One possibility is that the players decide to multiclass rather than seek out trainers of even higher level in their original class. Alternatively, they need to venture beyond the mundane world to find higher level trainers.

Yeah, I left the term “suitable instructor” deliberately vague, so maybe at high enough levels you need to seek out powerful supernatural entities to train you. Is it a little weird that these entities would charge gold to train the PCs? Yeah, maybe a bit. It’s ultimately a gameplay concession, and if it needs an explanation I’m sure it can be justified as like a sacrificial offering or some such.
Excellent. My post was not a critique and more a way to get one thinking about the higher level training and in what way it would make in-game sense. It's my inner crazy. :)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I have done training without great success, so I would be interested to see how it goes on your end. My main problem is that the PCs would gain enough XP to reach a new level and then have to stop things to go train or find someone. Some PCs would gain a level and the others not, so we would travel to find one for them. It led to pre-training a level to avoid stopping everything. Maybe doing away with XP and having it be downtime will work for you.
I definitely do expect this to eventually lead to PCs leveling unevenly, and that’s something I’m ok with for this campaign. It’s going to be an open-table affair, and I’m hoping that players will end up with stables of multiple characters at different level ranges they can pull out at different times, depending on who everyone else wants to bring and what kind of challenge they all feel like taking on. But yeah, my hope is that cutting out the “middle man” of XP and just charging for gold directly will prevent the situation you’re describing where you get enough XP to level up, but have to go on another whole adventure to find a trainer. I’ll let you know how it goes.
 

jgsugden

Legend
To me this feels like 'video game' mechanics, and it can hurt storytelling options.

You no longer have the freedom to spend that money on story related ideas. No building a castle, freeing slaves by purchasing them and releasing them, buying a skyship, etc... There is a lot that you can do storywise with PC wealth.

You also have to stop the action and 'return to town' to level up often. Or, perhaps travel far and wide to find a master to train you. This is not possible if you have a storyline with a time limitation - which either means they skip leveling up, or they can't meet any such deadlines. That either punishes them for following a story or takes the intensity out of many storylines. That isn't generally fun.

It is also extra accounting. Some of the most common changes we've seen in the game are aimed at reducing the accounting. Milestone experience eliminates individual experince - and it has been widely used. In the 1980s many of us tracked every meal and every lb carried - but in modern D&D it is far more common to abstract it and not sweat the details as it gets in the way of fun.

I get the impulse behind the rules - but I think overall, you'll find most players are less receptive to this approach and that you, as a DM, may find yourself limited by it as well.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Excellent. My post was not a critique and more a way to get one thinking about the higher level training and in what way it would make in-game sense. It's my inner crazy. :)
Thanks for the clarification, although I also wouldn’t have minded if it had been a critique 😁. But yeah, what training will look like at higher levels is something I’ve been considering, since the starting area definitely won’t have trainers beyond the 6-11 tier. The idea is to expand the sandbox as the need arises, so when players start pushing those levels I’ll have to give them new places to adventure and new powerful characters/creatures to train with.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
To me this feels like 'video game' mechanics, and it can hurt storytelling options.
Well, it’s inspired in part by the way leveling works in the Soulslike games, so yes, it is literally based on a video game mechanic.
You no longer have the freedom to spend that money on story related ideas. No building a castle, freeing slaves by purchasing them and releasing them, buying a skyship, etc... There is a lot that you can do storywise with PC wealth.
Keep in mind, these costs should be in parity with rewards from treasure hordes leaving rewards from individual monsters, selling unwanted magic items, and rewards for paid jobs as spending money. Of course, if the players decide to dedicate that spending money to leveling up as well, I feel that option should be open to them. If players want to save up to build a stronghold instead of saving up to get to 12th level or whatever, that option is also available.
You also have to stop the action and 'return to town' to level up often. Or, perhaps travel far and wide to find a master to train you.
Yes, that’s exactly the gameplay pattern I devised this system to incentivize. Early game the PCs should be making day trips into the dungeon and back to rest and, after a few such trips, to level up. By mid-game they’ll have the tools to safely venture further from the starter town to find new trainers and more lucrative (and dangerous) places to adventure. And by late-game they’ll need to start venturing beyond the mortal plane to find entities powerful enough to train them, enemies powerful enough to challenge them, and rewards rich enough to be worth their time.
This is not possible if you have a storyline with a time limitation - which either means they skip leveling up, or they can't meet any such deadlines. That either punishes them for following a story or takes the intensity out of many storylines. That isn't generally fun.
Sure, and if this was an adventure path with a storyline to follow, this system would probably be a poor choice for it. The campaign I’m intending to use this in is a location-based, open-table sandbox affair. The intended gameplay loop is that players will delve as deep into the dungeon as they feel they can safely manage, then return to town to sell the valuables they acquired and spend the gold to level up so they can push further in next time, rinse and repeat until they outpace the local area, then venture out to find a new place to adventure that’s more their speed.
It is also extra accounting. Some of the most common changes we've seen in the game are aimed at reducing the accounting. Milestone experience eliminates individual experince - and it has been widely used. In the 1980s many of us tracked every meal and every lb carried - but in modern D&D it is far more common to abstract it and not sweat the details as it gets in the way of fun.
Yep, this system will definitely require more bookkeeping than story-based or session-based advancement. I believe that will be a worthwhile tradeoff. I’ve always found the benefits of tracking XP to be well worth the little bit of bookkeeping required, and this won’t be significantly more bookkeeping than that. Heck, my players have always kept very good track of their gold, despite 5e not giving them anything to spend it on; this should actually be less bookkeeping than XP because it’s just one number to keep track of instead of two.
I get the impulse behind the rules - but I think overall, you'll find most players are less receptive to this approach and that you, as a DM, may find yourself limited by it as well.
Thanks for the concern. Maybe it won’t work out, but I think it is well-suited to my goals for this campaign. If not, no big loss, we can always go back to regular XP in the next one.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I worry about heavy armor users and casters, especially wizards in T1. Wizards have scribing costs on top of the material component costs.

When something like a revivify is the same cost as gaining a level, it gives me concern.

Also, this seems that it precludes characters actually using gold in ays the characters would - no tithes to churches, ale & parties, founding orphanages, bribing officials, building keeps, buying titles, gambling or investing without a big hit to character advancement. It doesn't make sense that those come out of the same currency.
 

wedgeski

Adventurer
My experience with training costs, however well intentioned, is parties forever in debt to generous patrons, and an attitude to dungeon exploration exemplified by questions like, "How much are those curtains worth, do we think?" I know (and play with) DM's who still enjoy this mode of play, but it's not for me.
 

jgsugden

Legend
...Thanks for the concern. Maybe it won’t work out, but I think it is well-suited to my goals for this campaign. If not, no big loss, we can always go back to regular XP in the next one.
Very true. Heck - you can also drop it mid process by telling players it only applies to the lowest levels if you find the issues I raise impact your game more than expected.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Very true. Heck - you can also drop it mid process by telling players it only applies to the lowest levels if you find the issues I raise impact your game more than expected.
Indeed! It’ll at least be an interesting experiment if nothing else.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I've been using gold for XP in my hexcrawl campaign for the last year or so. It works just fine, despite all the concerns mentioned upthread. What tends to happen, at least in my group, is that the players look at any windfalls and prioritize their expenditures, then decide among themselves who is leveling up with the rest of the money. So they may say, okay, let's get our fighter into plate armor now, the level up the cleric so we get access to revivify, and purchase a couple of diamonds. Then off they go again into the wilds. (They even bought themselves a keel boat with a whole crew to get around easier in the swamp.)

You can also "correct" for any shortfalls if you see them with bounties and quest rewards in gold if you want. Particularly early on I had a few quests available that paid out gold for doing certain things. I tended to err on the side of shady NPCs for this which made it feel like the PCs were doing something kind of bad to get ahead.

The trainers in this game are NPC adventurers of the same class and they belong to a group called the Guild of Transient Heroes whose leadership - Tordek, Jozan, Mialee, and Lidda - are thoroughly corrupt. This eventually led to conflict with the PCs who were in a real pickle because they had fighters, clerics, and wizards among their number. Do they risk losing the ability to level up those characters by dealing with this corruption? (Turns out, yes they did!)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I've been using gold for XP in my hexcrawl campaign for the last year or so. It works just fine, despite all the concerns mentioned upthread. What tends to happen, at least in my group, is that the players look at any windfalls and prioritize their expenditures, then decide among themselves who is leveling up with the rest of the money. So they may say, okay, let's get our fighter into plate armor now, the level up the cleric so we get access to revivify, and purchase a couple of diamonds. Then off they go again into the wilds. (They even bought themselves a keel boat with a whole crew to get around easier in the swamp.)
Oh, interesting! I would have expected them to prioritize leveling up first, and gear after. I also suspect since I’m going to be running this campaign open-table style that my players will be less inclined to lend each other gold given that they won’t be able to count on always being with the same party.
You can also "correct" for any shortfalls if you see them with bounties and quest rewards in gold if you want. Particularly early on I had a few quests available that paid out gold for doing certain things. I tended to err on the side of shady NPCs for this which made it feel like the PCs were doing something kind of bad to get ahead.
That’s a good point! I’ll definitely keep that in mind.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I worry about heavy armor users and casters, especially wizards in T1. Wizards have scribing costs on top of the material component costs.
Only if they want spells beyond those they gain for free by leveling up, which I think is very appropriate to come at the cost of delaying their next level. Heavy armor and material components could potentially be a concern, but don’t forget that these costs are based only on hordes and leave out individual monster treasure.
When something like a revivify is the same cost as gaining a level, it gives me concern.
Revivify is only the same cost as gaining a level in tier 1. And when the alternative is making a new character at first level, paying one level worth of gold for an extra life looks like a pretty good deal to me.
Also, this seems that it precludes characters actually using gold in ays the characters would - no tithes to churches, ale & parties, founding orphanages, bribing officials, building keeps, buying titles, gambling or investing without a big hit to character advancement.
Tithes, carousing, and the like will be accounted for in downtime expenses (which can be subsidized by downtime activities like practicing a profession). Building keeps, buying titles, and finding orphanages is, in my experience, not something players really do anyway. Part of the goal is to give players something to spend large amounts of gold on that’s actually directly useful while adventuring.
It doesn't make sense that those come out of the same currency.
🤷‍♀️ I’m not especially concerned with whether or not it “makes sense,” as long as it makes for good gameplay.
 

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