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Friday, May 22, 2015

Experience Points - Does Gold Still Have the Same Weight as the Early Days of Gaming?

Back in the early days, when the "Dungeons" part of D&D defined much of the gameplay, giving expo primarily based on Gold Piece value made sense. Even if you think it doesn't make sense, it's understandable - it was an easy short cut that kept things simple. And just think of the difficulty in removing that heavy hoard of coin.

Later, when "the wilderness" was initially introduced, much was hand waved and adventuring was still primarily in dungeon environments. Conducting home invasions of dungeon denizens was still the primary source of income and expo.

At some point the "sandbox" became a thing, even if it wasn't called such at the time. Exploration and the wilderness came to the forefront but the method of awarding expo did not change. At 10 gold coins to the pound, how did anyone travel with money? (gems, of course)

Sandbox play damn near requires a rethinking of the method to award expo. Do you give points for each 6 mile hex explored? Double the xp from monster kills? Gold and the like is much rarer in the wilds.

By it's very nature, sci-fi roleplaying is very sandboxie - no one plays scifi on a single world, they want the universe. Can credits in lieu of gold really be sufficient as a source of expo? Doesn't this hamper the viability of a Space Marine themed campaign, where killing xenomorphs doesn't lead to the recovery of credits?

What, if any, alternate methods of xp awarding do you use? Do you change methods depending on the type of adventure? Is gold = XP an OSR sacred cow?

21 comments:

  1. The wilderness adventure wasn't "later" - it's at the heart of White Box D&D. There's the use of the wilderness survival board, the %In lair and Treasure Types are both for Wilderness not dungeon adventures, and in Strategic Review #1 when he introduces Random Dungeons for solo play he says "Although it has been possible for enthusiasts to play solo games of D&D by means of 'Wilderness Adventures' there has been no uniform method of dungeon exploring".

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    1. When a say "later" I'm referring to the genesis of what became White Box. I'm reading the Hawk & Moor series.

      Dungeon play was initially the game. It opened up as Gary's players wanted to explore more of the world.

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    2. I've not read "Hawk & Moor" but Dave Arneson said in his First Fantasy Campaign that he started Wilderness adventures using the Outdoor Survival board "after about a year" and that led to the "Encounter Matrix" but that "the new guys are only interested in the old Dungeon of Blackmoor itself". I'm not sure of the dates, but doesn't that put Arneson as having started wilderness adventures before Gary ever played the game?

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  2. I never used Gold = XP, even though I love the simplicity of solving the "kill em all" problem. My players are all very easy and relaxed about this. We usually adopt a fixed scheme like "Level up after a number of sessions equal to half your new level" or do a level up at a milestone. The players can decide themselves what that mileston is. We also do a fixed XP amount per session as well. The only time I ever calculated XP precisely was during 3.5, and that work almost killed my interest in DnD altogether. My group prefers everyone be at the same level, hence most early DnD variants are out anyway.

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  3. The usefulness of gold pieces in D&D has always been a conundrum to me. They lose a lot of value in the game after about level 3 or so if you don't tie them in with XP which was the original intent. 3E tried to solve this by making what is essentially a magic item economy. 5E is a little more stingy with the gp, which is good along with more mundane suggestions such as land ownership, manors, etc.

    I am all in favor of gp for xp; it's just one more use. I think for a 5E game, I'd make it go 1gp=1xp=1 day of downtime with the gp spent in the conversion. This house rule is in keeping with OSR stuff yet adapts well to new systems.

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  4. I award XP for GP on a 1:1 ratio. I also award XP for damage dealt and received. I feel this provides a much more concrete way to assign combat XP. Also, my gold coins weigh 6 grams, not 45. ($232 on today's market vs $1744) an important thing to do is give the players something to spend money on. Historically food, clothing and shelter are the three biggest resource expenses people have. Peasants grow their own food, make their own clothes, and build/maintain their own cottages (or inherit their fathers cottage). Pc's do none of those things. Clothes wear out, food gets eaten, inns charge by the night. Castles are really expensive, armies must be paid and fed, and most importantly, folks who go around with literally a fortune hanging from their belt (especially in the eyes of a peasant) tend to attract a lot of unwanted attention.

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    1. PCs in AD&D are supposed to be paying 100 gp per level per month in expenses (i.e., food, shelter, and clothing), training costs are supposed to absorb 1000's of gp per level, and the PCs are ultimately supposed to be saving gold to pay for castles and armies. It's not Gary's fault if most DM's choose not to use those rules.

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  5. The gold piece, any coinage in fact, is a trap. A shiny, desirable, attractive trap. That's the point of 10 gp/lb when combined with 1 gp/XP.

    At higher levels, gems, jewelry, and magic items should, as treasure, produce the lion's share of XP for PCs and their entourage.

    I don't think it's a "sacred cow" but I also don't see it as some "poor design choice" or "shorthand" from "the early days" that could use improvement.

    It should present a problem: how do you cart all that gold (XP) out of the dungeon especially when you're bruised & battered from beating the dragon? How do you sustain the expenses of Cost of Living, Training, your own mercenary army, and so forth while you're traipsing about the wilderness where gold, jewels, and other sources of funds are scarce?

    As a DM it presents different challenges.

    I like the fact that the game, in it's earliest design, forces this choice on players and DMs. That's a feature not a bug in my estimation.

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  7. I definitely use XP for gold in D&D. I've noticed that the game got worse as it moved away from this, and I don't think that's a coincidence.

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  8. In hexcrawling the utility of coin doesn't change much from dungeoncrawling PCs just need to haul about a good bit of food too. Players should be able to figure out thre is gp related exp to be made searching out dragon lairs and occupied castles over wandering herds of cattle. There should also be the occasional treasure map or lost ruin waiting for the plucking and every encounter along the way is actaully a barrier to such a target.

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  9. Gold = XP has always been something I disliked; I have never used it, and even being a late-arrival on the scene in 1980 as a kid I thought it was dumb, I subscribe to Ken St. Andre's opinion expressed in T&T that gold is its own reward and not a useful metric for experience. Anyway, adding up all that treasure value...especially to a ten year old back in the day....was much more onerous than saying "completing this adventure is worth 1,000 XP." The net effect was often the same. Actually as a young gamer I was heavily influenced by one other source than Ken's diatribe on the subject in T&T: an issue of White Wolf where someone did a breakdown of "average XP earnings to leveling" to determine roughly how many adventures someone would have to go on to advance a certain # of levels. Between those two sources I ran my games XP free right up until 2E when a hard metric for awarding XP by class action and deed was baked in to the game.

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    1. Maybe, possibly in my next S&WC game I'm planning I'll try playing it straight and do the XP+Gold metric to see how it works. But....my instincts tell me it will amount to more bother for the same results as figuring goal/action XP.

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  10. When I was a kid, XP for gold made no sense to me. Treasure was it's own reward, so why should you get XP for it as well?

    Now, having read up on the reasoning behind many of the rules in OD&D it makes more sense. OD&D isn't primarily about combat (unlike modern versions of D&D, including 5th); OD&D is primarily about exploration and treasure hunting. Thus, XP for gold rewards treasure hunting, whether you slay the dragon, trick the dragon or somehow get around the dragon...so long as you get the dragon's treasure. It's a simple yet effective mechanic to reward the intended objective of the game.

    For a gritty old school dungeon crawl, I think XP for gold is a great way to go. But I probably wouldn't use it in most sci-fi RPGs, or for epic fantasy either. You pick the XP system that best encourages the kind of behavior you want to encourage in your game.

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    1. And that last sentence was approved by the Department of Redundancy Department. :/

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  11. I'm not sure I accept the premise that "gold is much rarer in the wilds", if you mean to include jewelry and gems as "gold" that should grant xp. The % lair chances for wilderness encounters aren't differentiated from those in dungeons, and the amount of treasure from clearing out a wilderness lair can be absolutely enormous. Type A (men/centaur) treasures, in particular, basically give out tens of thousands of GP in treasure in exchange for lobbing a few fireballs at some low level fighters. And aside from A3, which dumps a lot of coin, all of these hoard classes put their emphasis on jewelry, making them much easier to cart away than a dragon hoard. Even A3 is about 90% jewelry, and only 10% coins.

    The coin-heavy treasures would be G (dwarves) and H (dragons), which are essentially underground (i.e., dungeon) encounters.

    For what it's worth, I love giving experience for exploration, but I think that should be in addition to treasure. I also like the idea of experience for off-duty carousing (research, tithing, whatever), or purchasing property.

    I'm definitely against xp either for either heroic questing or for killing, which tend to railroad players into certain types of problem-solving.

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  12. One more thing about XP for gold, especially when paired with combat XP rewards is that in dividing the loot the players themselves can reward outstanding performers who may not have made a direct contribution to the combat but have been excellent support. It takes voting with your dollars to a new level.

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  13. I can't remember where I first ran across the rule (Jeff Rients gets the credit I think?) but I only award experience for gold spent on things that don't provide a direct mechanical benefit; rounds for the house, esoteric tomes, charitable donations to the temple, etc - The proverbial, "wine, women and song" approach.

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  14. "Does Gold Still Have the Same Weight as the Early Days of Gaming."

    Pretty sure it was 10 coins per pound in the early days and it still is now. So yeah, the weight is the same. ;)

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  15. It is an interesting question, isn't it? XP for cash is a measure of general success not related to killing things or tracking individual uses of skills or whatever. It's oddly misnamed, since it isn't really "experience", necessarily, but as I said a measure of success.

    I've been wrestling with the question for my raygun fantasy project, since I look at the archetypal heroes there, Northwest Smith and Eric John Stark (though perhaps Flash Gordon points in a different direction), and I see that they have the same motivations as traditional fantasy heroes like Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. There should be an objective measure of success that isn't bound up in Referee interpretation, but what should it be? Cash is the easy one, and to some extent has been the measure in most SF games - in Traveller, gaining money was the only "character sheet" advancement possible (setting aside the years-long training programs, though those needed to be paid for as well), for example.

    I don't have a definitive answer yet, but there's a lot to be said for the "success = money gained" equation. I'm sort of interested in Warriors of the Red Planet's solution of achieving defined goals to gain XP awards. It seems incomplete, however.

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