Sunday, November 6, 2016

DF Game XP House Rules: Set III

Going back to my first sessions of my DF game, I wanted a loot-driven XP system. We used one system from 2011-2015:

DF Game XP House Rules

It drew heavily, but not exclusively, from the system from Dungeon Fantasy 3:

A year ago, at the request of the players, we modified it to make exploration a bit more important, downgrade the importance of casualties, and systematize "insufficient loot" better.

DF Game XP House Rules: New Set

We've played with those since.

We have since hit some issues with those rules.

First, exploration. We have literally had zero sessions where, "I think that should count as sufficient exploration for a +1" wasn't argued by the players. Zero. Even when they received XP for sufficient exploration, they'd almost reflexively argue for it ("We should get 1 xp for exploration." "You did get it.") Anything that was clearly special or seemed special was an argument for +1 more as a significant game location. This was appropriate for places like the Black Library, say, or finding a new dungeon level, and a bonus was given. Other areas were just dead-ends or encounters with their own inherent rewards; you don't get a +1 for finding a monster guarding a treasure.

This isn't to say my players are argumentative - it's to say that my standards were unclear. And the player's perception of "sufficient" and "special" did not match my own. It was a guess what was enough exploration. I knew - and I'd know that, say, their "sufficient" wasn't because most of it was hitting areas found 40 sessions back but the new players didn't recognize. Or that something dead-ended out. Or that it was just some random mark on the wall, not game-changing clue. Things like that. How could they know? They couldn't. It wasn't clear.

Next, there is a bonus of +1 for a "clean run" - no deaths. This meant that letting even a single hireling die cost you 1 xp . . . so do you risk a death for more loot and more exploration? No, you can't be sure you'll get a balancing +1. On top of that, one of my players pointed out the overlap with Sense of Duty. The guys with a baseline Sense of Duty got 5 points off the bat to spend. Then, even the ones without it had to ensure everyone's safety and return from the dungeon because if they didn't, they'd cost themselves and everyone else 1 xp. Let an NPC die because you're a Callous Loner with Greed? Everyone gets -1 off the total. So this basically forced everyone to play as if they had Sense of Duty because you don't want to be the player to cost the group 1 xp each. Usually. My original argument with it was that it discouraged risk-taking; the persuasive bit was the realization that we'd put a 1 point charge on being anything except risk-averse and loyal to your friends. Making it PC-only would only make meta-game sense, and be outright weird - Raggi dies so no -1, Hjalmarr dies so -1? Er, what? And again, it discourages risk-taking. "I died but we netted a dragon's horde and got me resurrected" should be cause for celebration, not "Damn, if you'd made that HT roll we'd all have 1 xp more."

So we decided we will try a new set of XP rules, which marries the parts we liked about the 1st set with the parts we liked about the 2nd set. It's more stripped down and - at my insistence - absolutely clear about what counts as exploration.


Loot: Loot makes the delver world go 'round. If sufficient loot is taken home to meet the base threshold for your character is worth 4 xp. Under this threshold (but still significant loot) is 2 xp. 20% or less of this threshold is 0 xp.

Unlike other awards, this is decided on a per-character basis - lopsided loot distribution can mean some PCs get more XP, some get less.

Exploration: Exploration is part of a successful delve. No exploration or no significant exploration is worth 0 xp. Exploration of at least one new area of significance (which generally will be clearly significant) or exploring many areas in general is 1 xp. Exploration of 10+ significant areas is worth 2 xp.

Roleplaying: If you find a way to make your disadvantages and quirks matter in the game in an especially disadvantageous and/or entertaining way, you will get between 1 (minimum) and 3 (maximum) bonus points. If your disadvantages help you, you don't get a bonus for them that session - getting an advantage from a disadvantage is sufficient bonus! Physical disads and flat-out stat reductions (reduced Speed, for example, or Hard of Hearing) don't count here, as they have constant in-game effects. Not playing your disadvantages is a penalty of -1 to -3 xp. If you can't play the ones you have, we can change them to ones that fit the character as played. These are rare.

Awesome Bonus: If you do something especially clever, cool, or otherwise awesome, I will give the whole damn party bonus points. Encourage each other to be awesome. "Awesome" is not a die roll, its a memorable action that makes the game better. Think "Conan book cover scene" or "story we will tell forever" not doing risky stuff just to do risky stuff.

Most Valuable PC: Every session, at the end of the session, the party can vote at the end on who gets a bonus point just for being the most useful, best roleplayer, best dresser, brought the best beer, whatever. It's up to the players for gets it and why. GM preference is that it's not "because so-and-so needs one more point for that power-up he wants."


- the goal is 5 xp for a session with sufficient loot and at least one new area explored. Maximum possible is 7, for sufficient loot, 10+ new areas explored, and an awesome bonus, +1 for MVP to one PC. The maximum possible anyone can earn in 11 xp in one session, but that's not likely (maximum loot, maximum exploration, awesome bonus, maximum roleplaying bonus, MVP.) The average should be 5 for good delves, 2-3 for so-so ones, and 0 for sessions spent looting nothing and finding nothing.

- Character death is completely irrelevant. No casualties, near-total? Same thing. Guys with Sense of Duty who don't make all possible good-faith efforts to save people and so on will be penalized, but they got points up front for that (and +2 to Loyalty scores!) and may get bonus points if they do really significant things to demonstrate their character's personality.

- Roleplaying bonus points are vanishingly rare - it needs to be "highlight reel" stuff.

- it's very loot centric, but you need to explore, too.

- Empty room, new corridor, etc.? Not significant. New room with a monster, trap, treasure, weird item to interact with, etc., or stairs (found and taken), new level, etc.? Significant. And clear. And if you don't notice any significant thing in that area, even if one exists, it's clear that it doesn't count. Just one is 1 xp. 10+ is 2 xp, so you better be tearing around the dungeon to get 2 xp. This is clear to the players, so they won't leave the dungeon wondering if they did enough. They made lose track of 10+, but hey, I'll easily be able to tabulate it.

- One technical point: loot is based on sale value in town, and only counts what is actually sold.

- Another technical point: loot only "counts" when found initially. You can't keep taking portions of a hoard home and making your threshold. Or selling items sessions after finding them to make your loot threshold. It's still valuable if you go back to a hoard and get it on another trip, but it's only loot for xp purposes the first time you find it. It's a meta-game reward for success, not an in-game payment that must be made no matter how you do it.


  1. The thing I like here is that you and your players decided on the new XP rules together. The old ones seemed basically fine, but after long experience everyone thought some tweaks were needed, and you were willing to make them.

    The thing I don't like (not that what I like matters since I'm not in the game) is that different characters have different loot thresholds, and that this can be gamed by splitting the loot unevenly. Feels cheesy to me.

    1. It might sound "cheesy" but it works well in play. Otherwise:

      - almost 500-point characters need as much loot for 4 xp as 250-point characters


      - if 250-point characters adventure with 500-point characters, they can't earn a lot of XP unless they're also taking home lots of loot.

      Neither really appeals to me. The first encourages bottom-feeding, the second discourages mixed-point play - and mixed-point play is actually quite interesting.

      Besides, splitting loot unevenly for XP reasons goes back a long time. Plus it makes for some really tight decisions in actual play - the PCs have sold items they'd rather have kept to ensure they could *just* cover a few extra people. PCs have made enough loot but the higher-point PCs have an incentive to push it just a bit harder. It drives play in a way flat loot levels didn't, which is why we changed it!

  2. You could mark areas on your map with +1 xp. I think that's more or less a version of what you are doing in your head. When the PCs get there they get that xp. They might get to two in a session which would be slightly inflationary, but in the long run it will average one or less.

    1. I already knew what areas I'd give bonus points for; there wasn't any confusion on my end. But I've basically eliminated them with this approach, along with any arguments about how this area or that area should have been worth +1 points as "special" or "significant."


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