Friday, June 6, 2008


James Maliszewski has a post over at his Grognardia blog about D&D's abstract combat.

I've already commented upon it, but I'd like to take the concept of abstraction in RPG design a bit further here.

One element of OD&D and AD&D that I frequently see taken out by well-meaning DMs is the aspect of Experience Points for treasure. Gary Gygax once defended this practice by saying that the loot is what the characters are going there for in the first place; it fits to use that as a measure of the experience derived.

(Okay, I'm seriously paraphrasing here; I don't have the exact quote handy at the moment.)

I have to say that I agree.

Others don't; the common refrain is "Big deal, so you picked up a huge ruby worth 5000 gp. How exactly does that make you a better fighter?"

Directly speaking, it doesn't. But I have a counter-question:

So, Mr. first level magic-user, you've already used your one spell today and now you're sticking your dagger in an orc's back. How exactly does this make you a better spellcaster? Or mister cleric, bashing in a kobold's skull; how exactly does this make you better able to turn undead?

The answer in all of these cases is: It doesn't. It's simply a useful referent. You defeat certain challenges, you gain the rewards of experience.

This has been taken way too far in 3.x. The only XP you get is for defeating (i.e.; killing) monsters; treasure "is it's own reward". That's all well and good, if you want to end up with a bunch of psychopathic killing machines instead of characters.*

If you can get 100,000 gp worth of treasure from, say, a dragon, by means of trickery, stealth, and damn good roleplaying, I say it should be worth the XP. You're actually using the skills and such you've learned dungeon crawling for the purpose every adventurer holds most dear: Wealth! Plus, think of the story you'll have to tell!

On the other hand, if you just run in there and kill the dragon (and an experienced group of murderous thugs can usually do this in a couple of rounds, max, at least in AD&D...), it shouldn't be worth anywhere near as much. It certainly won't be as valued, nor make for such good story fodder.

It really depends on what you want to reward your players for.

Now that I think about it, I'm almost tempted to give an option to any future players I might have. You can decide, as a group, whether you want to get experience for:

a) Treasure gained, or

b) Monsters slain.

Option a will not only lead to faster advancement, it will show the players that they can have a good time, develop their characters, and not have to kill everything in sight.

Option b will be the status quo, slow advancement, players killing everything around (including, when they really need those extra few points, each other...) and a bloodthirsty, boring game.

Do we really want that? 'Cause I don't.

Anyway, there; I said it. Let the flamewar commence.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

* And there's something fishy about advancement in 3.5, anyway. I've never run the game, so I didn't know this until recently: The DMG warns against more than 3 encounters per day, because that's when characters start to die.

Okay, now, the established goal is 13.3 appropriate encounters per level. So, follow along here:

We go out Monday and have three encounters. Same Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Friday, during our first encounter, we all level up. Ding! We continue on for two more encounters. Saturday there are three more; we rest on Sunday.

Monday, 3 encounters, same Tuesday, same Wednesday, but we level up around midday.

It's been a week and a half and the party is now 3rd level. Another week and a half and they'll be fifth.

Three weeks to fifth level? That makes 12 weeks (3 months!) to 21st (which, as you'll recall, is Epic Level).

Am I the only one who thinks this is whacked?


Jeff Rients said...

1) I find that loot XP encourages smarter thinking. If you can get the giant's gold without fighting it, you score the majority of the XP for the encounter without getting clubbered.

2) 3.x advancement is wacked. My group took maybe 50 sessions to reach 23rd level or so.

Natalie said...

And here I was just starting to think about adding treasure-as-XP back into my 4e game. Strip magic items, replace them with standard bonuses as necessary, and make treasure about being filthy rich rather than buying system required toys. The toys are cool, don't get me wrong, but it always struck me as sort of weird that the system encourages everyone to carry their entire net worth on their persons rather than spending it on ale and wenches or whatever. Fun, roleplaying type things.

Sham aka Dave said...

I've seen it mentioned in numerous sites that I bounce around to on the 'net, the fact that in the earliest days of D&D, the players often strived to actually AVOID combat.

They were in the underworld, or treking across the wildlands, in search of Treasure! Not in search of crawling, creeping and flying bags of Experience Points.

Combat, rolling dice, and putting your character in harm's way was to be avoided if at all possible.