Posted by : David Guyll January 30, 2014

How many goblins/encounters/sessions does a character have to defeat/overcome/endure to reach 2nd-level? This week's Wandering Monsters does a pretty good job of breaking it down across the editions, including 4th Edition (which it praises alongside 3rd Edition for having clear encounter-building guidelines).

5th Edition continues the tradition of having you carving the majority of your XP from monster-corpses, though as of the latest public playtest packet there are at least passable recommendations on doling out XP for non-combat encounters. Really the major difference seems to be that instead of each level taking a uniform number of encounters, lower levels go by more quickly.

My question is why? Why...everything.

Why does most of the XP by default have to come from killing stuff? 4th Edition provided nice, solid rules for skill challenges and quests, meaning that it was possible to go on a lengthy journey and level up by the rules. Yeah, 5th Edition has something like this, but it is only a couple paragraphs tucked away at the end of the section on Experience Points; it should be more prominent, and have stronger guidelines and examples. Another non-combat option is treasure. I think AD&D's 1 gp per XP was a pretty silly ratio, but I could at least see a case being made for meaningful loot.

Why do you need so many points to level up? Why not go with something like Dungeon World, where instead of having to rack up 250 points for 2nd-level you only need 8, but you only get something like 3-5 per session depending on what happens and what you do (and most can only be "marked" once per session); fulfilling your alignment, resolving a character bond, learn something new and important, overcome a notable monster, and looting memorable treasure.

I think this approach would make it easier to write adventures (especially adventure paths), because you would not need to worry about stocking a dungeon with a level or two worth of monsters to make sure that they rake in enough XP (and players would not have to worry about killing them all). Actually, I would also love to see guidelines on just throwing XP out the window and leveling up characters whenever the plot calls for it (encounter guidelines would still be necessary so you can gauge how difficult you are making things).

Another thing that would be cool is to have incremental leveling, where instead of leveling up and getting the whole package—hit points, a new class feature, proficiency bonus, etc—you spend points to buy parts of a complete level up over time. Once you get all the stuff, then you hit the next level and do it all again. Simple, more interesting for players because they get to choose what to get next, and you can avoid the issue of a player "only needing like, 50 more XP, man".

What do you think? Should XP be completely overhauled? What other actions and goals should offer XP rewards? Do we even need XP at all?

{ 11 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I do think XP is necessary for D&D. D&D is still likely the most common introduction to the hobby, and XP is something that is easily accepted and translated to newcomers. It also gives a sense of control and advancement that not having XP lacks, eliminating the "at the whim of the GM" feel.

    That said, I've never liked D&D's XP system, in any edition; it's always been far too complicated and reliant on murder hobo-ing your way through the world. Personally, I'd like to see XP calculated based on the encounter, rather than each individual. So when you encounter 12 Goblin minions, 2 Hobgoblins, and a Goblin Priest, rather than figuring out what each is worth and dividing it up, calculating how difficult the encounter as a whole was and then award XP based on that. This also removes the need to figure XP out when the players mess up all your plans, recruit the Hobgoblins, intimidate the minions, and sacrifice the priest on his own altar.

    Then there's the whole dividing XP thing; just get rid of it. Award full XP to every participant. That way you don't end up in the atrocity of figuring out who hit which enemy and how much XP they received. And yes, I've had a GM that insisted on dividing XP at that level.

    And with modular design I expect to see guidelines for playing without XP, with XP/session, and with incremental leveling. I just don't expect any of these to be default. And if I don't see these presented as modules, then, well, I guess I'll be disappointed and go play something else or hack it to work how I want. :/

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    1. @Svafa: I always assumed that is how 4th Edition was supposed to work. Like, I would think about how hard I wanted an encounter to be, assign a XP budget, and then populate it. Once they finished it I would give them XP for the encounter, whether they killed the monster, drove it off, bargained their way past, let survivors go, etc.

      Divvying XP by the hit? That sounds like a nightmare, and would probably lead to characters trying to one-up each other/not acting very much like a team. I would always do a straight divide and round-up to whatever meaningful chunk (often 100) would warrant an even split.

      I also expect to see optional rules for juggling XP, but not anything new. Maybe ways to speed it up or slow it down, but I would be surprised if they put in incremental leveling (heresy!), or provided solid, clear guidelines on awarding XP for other stuff like discoveries.

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    2. It wasn't quite divvying XP per hit. It was just XP per monster, so it didn't matter how many times you hit a monster just that you did so at least once. Great for AoE characters; terrible for everyone else. It was an awful system though and that game didn't last long (maybe third level?).

      Based on the books, 4E was supposed to work the way I described (as I recall, it even explicitly states it in the books). In practice I'm not sure that it did, but that's more likely an issue of the GM (being 3E or AD&D veterans) and not the system. I give full XP for simply overcoming or negating an encounter, but I've played with some GMs who didn't or only gave partial or whatever.

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    3. If I want to use XP, then I always give characters full XP for getting past an encounter, whether they merely chased the goblins off, talked their way past an ogre, or bashed in a locked door.

      I want to encourage the players to try creative ways to bypass stuff, not punish them for unorthodox methods. Plus it got really annoying when they would chase monsters down; this way they can just drive them off and not feel cheated.

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  2. There came a point in my 4E campaign where I indeed gave up on awarding XP and just announcing a level-up after a few sessions.

    I guess that I can see XP as being *such* a D&D thing that it would be difficult to eliminate entirely, yet I do prefer how Dungeon World, FATE, etc. handle advancement.

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    1. That is the problem: they keep things that they consider to be "D&D" whether or not it is a good or even the best way. I would argue that they could change/add/remove lots of things without disrupting the "feel" or whatever of D&D. I think at this point they are very much afraid to drift too far from 3rd Edition, though.

      In A Sundered World I did it after every session, but when I switched gears on Epiro (from 5th to 4th) I started doing it when they hit meaningful milestones.

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  3. No, we don't XP, maybe a Guideline for how much Combats/Skills Challenges/Plot Points you need before level up can be a much better option.

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  4. I did a breakdown of XP that way across systems last year in XP Evolution. Don't forget that originally you got XP for GP too; which engaged the players by making them choose between keeping and using that shiny magic item or selling it to level up.

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    1. I mentioned that, and think that for some types of treasure it could be again useful. Not as much as AD&D, but I could make a case for meaningful treasure.

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  5. Whether or not XP as we know it is necessary in Next is, unfortunately, irrelevant. Remember this article? http://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4ll/20110621 Tenth bullet point.

    At some point, Mearls decided that monsters as walking bags of HP, GP and XP providing the primary means of character advancement was a trait so endemic D&D that you literally aren't playing D&D if it's not there. As much as I wish the game used another system--ANY other system--we're stuck with what we've got for the foreseeable future.

    Now, it's not all bad; Wyatt is both smarter and better at communicating than Mearls, and he seems to at least respect the fact that 4e's math made more sense than any of its predecessors. Hopefully his influence will contribute a certain mathematical clarity to whatever it is that Wizards finally ends up publishing.

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    1. Yeah, but I still think that they could stand to rein it in a bit, or make other sources just as appealing so characters exploring uncharted wilderness could still gain XP for finding important resources, landmarks, etc.

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