Posted by : David Guyll February 18, 2014

Aww, they pulled the image of the not-blue dragon. I mean, if nothing else someone should have noticed the lack of a big-ass horn and desert environment, but now what will people have to talk about?

Because seriously, there is barely anything of interest in the rest of the article. All he really needed to say was, "We realize that many Dungeon Masters just level the characters up when it makes sense, and that is a method that we are supporting," and wrap it up. I cannot imagine the "official rules" demanding much more text than that.

It would be nice to see something, anything, more substantial. Or substantial at all. Instead we get boring, pointless, and mostly harmless filler. The only point of contention I have is where he says that tracking experience "makes a lot of sense in open-ended games", and kind-of infers that open-ended games are less story-focused. I...guess they can be, but my last few campaigns have been open-ended, featured plenty of story, and I still leveled the characters up whenever I felt that they had done enough to warrant it.

That aside I think this is actually mostly good news, because I also think that how Dungeons & Dragons uses XP, like extra lives in old school console games, no longer serves a meaningful purpose. I say mostly because it is incredibly easy to just houserule milestone-leveling (or whatever you want to call it) into your home game. The real benefit is its "official" recognition for published adventures, which I firmly believe would have been universally improved if they were written using XP for encounter budgeting and nothing more.

I remember trying to create my own adventure paths, cramming in enough encounters and quests to "officially" level up the party: for me it was at best frustrating, at worst a fucking nightmare. For my players it was often a borefest going through yet-another-encounter-with-crab-people, or whatever the thematic monster was at the time.

Once I started just leveling the characters up when they completed meaningful objectives, like defeating a big-bad or recovering a legendary artifact, I felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was free to structure the adventure how I wanted. I could include the encounters that I felt warranted inclusion in regards to how relevant and engaging they were, and I also had complete control over the pacing. It worked out a lot better instead of trying to shoehorn in enough, say, kobolds to make sure that they got to level 3 in time to grind orcs.

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

  1. Yeah, that's a good point. Probably that's why I left D&D altogether to go for more story-oriented gaming. Before that we were stuck between 7th and 9th level for ages, trying to avoid boring slugfests with yet another xp-encounter.

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    1. I also like games that require minimal XP, especially when you can only get like, 1 XP from fighting things per session.

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  2. Honestly, one of the best things I feel that 4e brought to the table was the encounter formatting via XP values. Beyond that, however, the statement that each level should essentially amount to 10 encounters resulted in me basically giving each person 1 XP per encounter we had, and after they gained 10 XP, they leveled up.

    Of course, excellent roleplay, quest completion, and generally awesome stuff also awarded them one or more XP, depending on a few different factors. I feel that this would be a good middleground, but the problem is that trying to quantify this into actual rules would be difficult (save for quest completion, which was given XP values) because of various group makeups and general playstyle variances.

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    1. Personally the only reason I would bother with XP nowadays is if I were doing incremental leveling, so players had to actually pick and choose what part of their character they wanted to "level up".

      Otherwise if I *had* to use XP for leveling, I think a minimalist approach is the way to go: what is the point of demanding 1,000 XP to level up besides just making the number unnecessarily large?

      Another thing that would make XP better is if levels were not assumed/required. Like, make monsters monsters. No level 3, 6, 9, or whatever orcs. Just make an orc an orc and a dragon a dragon, and let players deal with it how they may.

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    2. Well, the reason those numbers are so large in the first place is because of the old "Every 1 gold equals 1 XP" rule from older editions of the game. However, since modern editions of the game no longer use that rule, the only reason the numbers are that big are probably due to tradition or wanting to have unnecessarily big numbers like you said.

      I agree the minimalist approach is the way to go if you're going to use experience. It makes it much easier to track and a lot easier for me to hand out.

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  3. I agree that once 3e normalized the cost in XP to level up, XP became largely irrelevant unless you were playing the sort of game where players compete for XP. (No fair, you killed them all before I got into range!)

    In previous (2e and lower) D&Ds, XP makes a lot more sense, since for example your Thief will level up much more quickly than your Magic User. The acquisition of XP becomes a metagame in itself. I've even heard of parties distributing gold (for XP) unevenly to help level up new characters and such.

    Obviously everyone has their own preferences in how to play games, but IMHO, XP was rendered irrelevant by game mechanics, not culture.

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    1. Yeah, but I am not a fan of characters with varying XP requirements, either. The best method, to me, is to just have characters level up at various plot milestones, and also have levels not be necessary to climb the monster ladder (kobolds > orcs > ogres > giants > dragons > etc).

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