Sunday, September 23, 2012

GM Confession: XP

One of my least favorite GM chores, aside from player wrangling aka game scheduling, is keeping track of XP.  I can recall many of the sessions of the 3.5 game I co-DM'ed starting out with the players and DM discussing exactly how many XP we each had and trying to keep track of it all as some players would have less due to missing sessions or the DM would have forgotten to announce the earned XP at the end of the last session or the players would forgotten to have written down said XP...

This isn't to say that I never kept track of XP, a major part of my Assistant Storyteller duties for the Sabbat LARP I helped run involved keeping the books, recording attendance, XP earned and XP expenditures.  And for my just-started Reign game and my upcoming Fading Suns games I'll be keeping tracking of individual XP and using bonus XP as an enticement for players to go the extra mile and write character journals and backgrounds.  But for these all these games, World of Darkness, Reign and Fading Suns, the players are, for the most part, earning 1-4 XP a session, much easier to track than the hundreds or thousands of XP than could be earned in a typical D&D session.

I honestly don't remember if I ever tracked XP during any 4E D&D campaign I ran--I feel as though I must have at the start of the first campaign I ran, but I am not certain.  I do know that by the second 4E game I ran I wasn't keeping track of XP but rather arbitrarily awarding levels to my players every third or fourth session.  This arbitrary level award system was also used by the DM in the other two 4E campaigns I played in.  The only thing I used XP for in 4E was for encounter building, and while XP was a useful yardstick to measure monster or trap threat, the associated monster levels could also substitute fairly easily.

All this makes me wonder what the advantage of the thousands of XP you need to earn in a game like D&D is?  I get the mechanic of leveling up: there is something deeply satisfying about 'leveling up' in D&D that is sometimes missed in a game like Fading Suns or World of Darkness.  Sure, you can put all your XP into cool new occult powers or improving skills and stats, and you may even see appreciable growth in the power of your character, but leveling up and getting that core and noticeable power boost to a character has visceral appeal.

Still, could you divide the XP in D&D by tens or hundreds and still have a satisfying leveling experience without having to keep track of tens of thousands of experience points?  So that a goblin is worth 1 or 10xp instead of 100 and characters reach 2nd level at 25 or 250 exp instead of 2500?  For my part, I think that lowering the overall XP totals would make tracking a little easier.

Another XP complication that was present in older editions of D&D was XP awards specific to each class, so a rogue/thief got bonus XP for getting treasure, etc.  I dislike this approach as it results in each player potentially having a vastly different XP total, which makes tracking XP that much more complicated, but I do like the idea of rewarding player's for taking actions that fit their class.  I think that this would work better as being split off from XP, though that could add an additional mechanic.  Still, what if there was a scale of "Glory Points" or something similar, a scale of 1-5 or 1-10, and each class would have different criteria for earning Glory Points.  A thief would get a Glory Point for amassing a certain amount of treasure or for defeating a trap, a priest for re-consecrating holy ground or defeating an unholy enemy, a fighter for beating something in single combat, a wizard for completing research or obtaining a rare magic item.  I could see these Glory Points then being used to power Heroic Moments, of the type Thomas discussed over at the Tower of Infinite Evil.  To my mind, it could be a better method of encouraging players to take actions that fit their class than just giving more XP to track, but it would definitely need some refinement.

In any case, it will be nice, for a while, to run games where the XP is tracked in the single digits, but I'm sure that sometime in the future I'll yearn again for the simple pleasure of leveling up, regardless of whether it requires the tracking of tens of thousands of individual experience points or if it's arbitrarily awarded by a GM.

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