Monday, July 18, 2016

XP by the Session, not the Session's results

In my DF game, I deliberately set up XP awards based on in-play accomplishments. Roleplaying is expected, not rewarded. Showing up is worth points only if you accomplish specific, tangible, in-game goals. There aren't any missions to accomplish - just looting and exploring - and you get XP based on how well you do those things.

In my previous GURPS game, I rewarded reaching certain, well, "plot points" for lack of a better word. Take as many sessions as you want to get there, but finish a mission or accomplish some goal and you'd get points. Plus, you'd get some minor points for just showing up. Half of those minor points if your PC was involved in danger despite you not being there - it wasn't a pick-up team like my DF game.

Those are far from the only ways to do it.

One other way is just flat rewards per session, assuming you don't just putz around doing nothing or nearly so.

That's how our Gamma Terra guys advance. We get 5/session, and every 5 sessions we get to roll on a table which has some random awards on it worth 2-20 points or so. Play five sessions and you're sure to get 25 points plus 2-20 more in a pre-selected advantage or skill. We're heavily driven by in-game goals we set ourselves, and overcoming the obstacles to those goals.

This guy here, Eric Crapo, is doing it in Pathfinder in the way they say you can in D&D5. It seems to be working for him as well.

It would be an interesting way to play DF in a megadungeon.

How could I do it?

Pick a fixed amount of XP. Say, 5/session. That's what we get in GT, and it would be the same as a good session of DF with our current system or our previous system.

Award that out based on each and every session, as long as you show up and make some kind of reasonable advancement towards exploration and "clearing" of the megadungeon. Find new stuff, figure out a puzzle, kill some significant foes, do some mapping that clarifies how things are (a variation of "find new stuff). Not just killing rats, knocking off an orc or two, or re-mapping a bunch of caverns because two connections don't seem to line up just right. But generally, do stuff, get your points.

You can adjust it by making it point-based, so low point characters earn more and higher point characters earn less, to get a "you learn more early" approach. Say, 10/session until 300 points, 5/session until 400, 2/session until 500, 1/session thereafter. This would parallel a "slower advancement as you level" or "you need more treasure for full XP" system.

That kind of adjustment would mean PCs have to make some early decisions about their approach, and really need to dig after any bonus points for MVP or accomplishing special goals (defeat an epic foe, find a hidden area, discover a new level, defeat a major curse, etc.) or just accept slow growth. Wizards would inevitably be more picky about spells, since they'd eventually run into an issue with "learn at least one new spell per downtime, plus one per level of Wild Talent with Retention" as they got up in points. Not really unfair, but that would be the word I'd expect to hear from nearly all players used to multiple points per session who run wizards.

Potential Impact on Play (in my game)

This would significantly change play. Right now, a treasure-and-exploration based system means you constantly need to push to find new areas, find rich monsters, kill off people with money (or get them to give it to you), and go deeper and deeper. As the session rolls on, desperation sets in if you aren't making that progress. Killing off former allies because you're broke or avoiding fights because they don't seem to come with money - and provoking them because they do - occur often with this system.

Conversely, it might drive players away from looting and the endless drive deeper. If the amount of money you take isn't significant, and rate of advancement is constant, you can ignore money except as your character needs it. It's purely a tool, not a goal.

It may potentially drive PCs stuck on a way forward to just basically mess around trying to tie up loose ends. If it's always X points per session, and it doesn't matter what you do, then you should just do some stuff you feel is doable. You don't necessarily need a long-term strategy.* It's better if you have one - no one likes to spend an entire game on level 1, just putting the time to get the points and it all leads somewhere - but it's not strictly necessary.

On the other hand, it means you can build towards long-term goals without worrying about this session. If you don't get loot this session, but set yourself up for a big payday later, that's fine. You might just grind down some foes, not finish them, but that's something you needed done. You can get distracted by unraveling a puzzle without worrying that "it better have loot behind it." And although I'd be surprised if this happens, it would mean you wouldn't need to tear off door fixtures, steal locks off of old chests, and pull apart tables for the nails to try to make a buck to make ends meet.

As a way of playing, there is nothing wrong with fixed advancement or advancement per session. It's just different, and I think it would have the impacts I spelled out above in my games. The "points no matter what" or "advancement every X sessions" approach, tossing out in-game fixed needs, potentially has a strong impact on play. Or no impact on play, in the case of our Gamma Terra game - we'd do what we were doing anyway, because we have goals to accomplish.

* In training terms, this is "go to the gym and do stuff for an hour" vs. "go and do your day's training that is part of an overall plan." My current XP system is the "train heavy or go home" and "if I'm not straining and sweating, it's not worth doing" approach, but fixed is potentially "each day builds on the next, no matter how hard or easy it seems" approach. Yes, I always think about training. And gaming. Often overlapping, although I don't do them together.


  1. I've never come up with an XP scheme in GURPS I've been happy with. I tend to keep the values small, but players coming in from D&D expect XP per foe and other challenge, and those two just never really mesh greatly.

    1. There is always an issue when people basically want a mechanic artifact of Game A to factor in equally well in Game B. D&D mechanically chooses to award XP based on defeating foes on a per-foe basis, coins on a per-coin basis, challenges on a per-challenge basis. That's tough to mesh with a system that doesn't natively do micro-payment awards.

  2. I like your XP system for a sandbox game designed for players to drop in and out. The people who show up consistently, and manage to keep their character alive, get rewarded for it.

    My DF game runs with the exact same players every time, so I go with small rewards every session plus occasional bigger quest bonuses.

    I only give out points in town, so if the PCs stay in the dungeon for two sessions, they get nothing after the first session and two sessions worth of points after the second.

    Also, I've always used the old D&D rule that NPCs get half points.

    1. Thanks. I think however you earn points, it's quite possible to set them up for:

      - specific reward areas or times (only in town, only on break between storylines or discrete adventures or dungeons, after missions)


      - requirements like "must start and in town"

      No matter how the points are determined, you could still have those. Like my graduated system - you start in town, go to the dungeon and do stuff, come back, and the 250 point guy gets 10 and the 400 point guy gets 2, and that's that until next time.

  3. You should always get a meaningful amount for showing up and participating (in GURPS 1pt is meaningful even to 300 pt characters, I might sympathise with 800pt characters not receiving more).

    Also staying away should never make you advance faster. (My character trained for the last six months)

    Apart from that depends what you want the system to do.

    1. I'd disagree with the first point. I'd say, everyone who shows up and participates should have the chance to get a meaningful amount. It shouldn't be "always get" but "always have the opportunity to." And 800 point guys getting 1 point, well, some games are fast-start slow-growth, and it depends on the game you want.

      I agree on staying away. I like rules for learning and "training sequences" but they can't overshadow actual play. (You can even tweak them so they require play, for example, by making study a requirement or a multiple for XP spending, not a way to get better without them.)

    2. I guess we agree to disagree. Maybe I feel like my CP are wages (well the first point anyway) and yours are the performance bonus!

      Probably if someone didn't roleplay or do anything I'd still give them their point, but not invite them back!

      I've never run a GURPS campaign long enough for point inflation to be an issue (I've been in a vampire game where I think different point totals were an issue).

      I assume in your game eventually Vryce will be unable to practically gain CP with the loot that 250 pt characters can access.

      Though even there I guess there are synergies with a 750pt character and 250pt 'henchmen'

    3. I suppose so. I just can't see making automatic receiving of points the basis for all systems, which is what it sounded like you meant. Like, a system that doesn't do that is a system that doesn't work right.

      And yeah, Vryce is reaching that point. They really need to push hard to get more loot, which is kind of the point. If they'd rather bottom-feed for a living wage, they can, but advancement slows to a crawl. 500 point guys shouldn't be making their living cashing in empties from a handful of fodder!

  4. The system we've settled on is:

    If you turn up to the session, you get some CP. (Usually fixed for a given campaign.) If you don't, your character is in the "PC cloud" and will not suffer harm unless something really big happens to the whole party. It's a narrative device, but it's a useful one.

    When a new PC is generated (either for a new player or because an old one's being retired), he gets the same number of points as the lowest-total surviving PC.

    We don't feel we need to give incentives to players to do the stuff that they came to the game to do anyway.

    1. I used to run a game where you got halfway between starting points and the lowest point character. Otherwise it felt really unfair to the lowest-point PC that he or she worked up and the others just jump in there. The players were really happy with how that worked.

      My current DF game is "always start at the bottom" for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is ease.

      "We don't feel we need to give incentives to players to do the stuff that they came to the game to do anyway."

      I differ strongly here. I like that incentive. I like having a way to keep score and drive particular behaviors. We come up with a system for XP earning and it keeps the game on a specific track. Points are mainly for story advancement? Advance the story, make that the priority, and the game stays story-focused. Points are mainly for roleplaying? Roleplay your guy, worry more about your roleplaying that any in-game accomplishments, and the game stays roleplaying focused. Points are mainly for loot? Get money, focus on things that get you money, and the game stays loot focused.

      And so on.

      It's just a way to keep score, and lets us keep the game we decided to play staying on track as the game we decided to play. It's not really an incentive to do stuff you'd do anyway, it's an incentive for everyone to focus on what we decided was the main thing. Plus, it makes games particularly focused on certain challenges. Sure, you roleplay and advance the story (such as it is) in my DF Felltower game, but the challenge is "Can I get rich this session without getting dead?" It acts like competition, in a way - it pushes you to stay on track and go hard in that direction, simply because there is more to get if you do so and a fear of missing out if you don't.


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