Earlier this week, Mike Mearls had an article at the WotC website talking about experience points and levels in DnD Next. I am not going to critique the article here, but it got me thinking about the "line in the sand" that separates 2e and 3e, or OSR game rules from those that follow. It comes down to one thing, and it's not skills, feats or any one of a number of other things that annoy me.
Nope, it comes down to one simple thing.
Class based experience tables.
Prior to 3e, each class had it's own experience table and their own rate of advancement. Part of the balance between the classes was just that - the rate they advanced in levels based on experience points.
I do remember the houserule we used in high school for a bit - one level gained per adventure, no counting of experience points. It sure seemed to make leveling easier, less number crunching and the magic-users sure loved the idea. Multi-class characters were always an issue, and thieves got boned. We didn't use this houserule for long.
Now, Mike goes on to say that counting expo for more "open" campaign is fine, but for adventure paths, automatic or paced leveling is the way to go:
Tracking experience points and using them to award levels makes a lot of sense in open-ended games, where the players can go where they wish, tackle the specific challenges that appeal to them, and create their own goals as a campaign progresses. In this type of game, when the players decide to assault the lair of a blue dragon, their primary goal is most often the treasure and XP they'll gain for defeating it.
In a more story-driven campaign, however, that lair assault could have a more complex purpose. The characters might serve as an elite cadre of spies and operatives for a king. The blue dragon might be a key villain who plots against the crown. Defeating the dragon removes a threat to the realm and creates a key event in the campaign's story arc. In this type of campaign, treasure and XP take second place in the characters' goals, behind the dragon's importance in the narrative.That "story-driven campaign" crap reminds me of the old Dragonlance series of adventure.
No matter what the players did, they always ended the same way. The players were not part of the story, but detritus carried along by the pre-ordained story plot.
I suspect DnD Next will be heavily supported by "story-driven campaigns". Shame.
Not that I'm all that surprised. I'm not saying that Next won't support "open-ended", or home brewed campaigns out of the box. I just think the follow up products will be much like Pathfinder Adventure Paths, with even less wiggle room.
I may be wrong...