[OSR] How to decide how much XP a magic item is worth?

Obviously if the module lists a value, then that's great. But what if it doesn't, or what if you are writing a module?

In a classic, sandbox, gold-for-XP system, I want to avoid answers like "enough for the party to level once". I want some kind of objective way of deciding which is, in @Eero_Tuovinen's terms, hygienic.

In particular, tomorrow our party will be going through Temple of the Moon Priests in our new sandbox. They are likely to get their hands on the "Sky Shard" a magic item that grants immortality to the wielder, but which is cursed - the wielder has nightmares which come to life and breed, presumably with terrible consequences for the party and the world. How can I assign an XP value to this?

(I am using D&D 5th edition, if that helps. If anyone has any opinions on using D&D 5th's experience scale, vs earlier editions', for this kind of campaign, I'd be interested to hear them.)

I always appreciate the number of answers I get to my questions here - I hope one day to be in a better position to answer others' questions!

Comments

  • Are you committed to the notion that you get XP for finding magic items?

    I ask because I've obviously had to work out an answer for myself, and my answer is to strictly refuse the idea that you get XP for magic items. There are many, many things that happen in play that have nothing to do with XP - the onus is on the magic item to somehow fit into the XP scheme, not the other way around.

    In my play there are two ways you can get XP for magic items:

    We sell it, so it's treasure
    You get XP for however much money you get for the item. I calculate the fence's price based on my economic model - means of the fence, size of the market, significance of the item, etc. Most magic items will net a neat profit, but often getting the best price would imply taking the item to a rich city and using an elaborate sales process.

    Our quest was to find it, so it's a quest item
    I use quest XP. If your quest was to find this item, then obviously you get XP for success in the quest. The XP value is whatever the quest was worth. Note that the item is just a mcguffin here, the nature of the item itself does not actually influence the XP calculation (unless the quest XP math uses the data somehow). The quest might just as well be for a royal charter or a chicken bone.

    If you're wedded to giving XP for magic items, I suggest treating them as "implicit quests": whenever the party finds a contextually noteworthy magic item, award them half of what they'd have gotten for a quest to find that item. I have difficulty with the legitimacy of this XP award, but it's solid enough to be debatable, at least. The logic would be that because magic items are an "innate good" in strategic terms, they should be treated like treasure - implicitly worth XP, even when no quest was assigned in advance.
  • As for the xp chart in 5th edition, I seem to remember that it's relatively linear and thus probably fundamentally broken for sandbox purposes unless you include extra relative penalties for over-level characters (like e.g. 3rd edition does). No reason why it can't work, you just need to be aware of what you're doing and what you want to achieve.
  • I use very broad price categories for magic items (other than potions, scrolls etc.).

    minor item 5,000 gp
    major item 15,000 gp
    minor artifact 50,000 gp
    major artifact 150,000 gp
    legendary artifact 500,000 gp

    I use these regardless of whether the item benefits the wielder or not. Raw power is the issue. An item granting immortality and spawning powerful creatures? Sounds like a major artifact and thus almost worth a castle to me. Finding a buyer may prove difficult, though. I'd probably improvise a roll (e.g. 1-in-6 per season or year spent trying to sell it or a more involved process with extra money spent to advertise it, run commercials on the Ethereal plane etc.).

    The broad categories make it relatively easy to classify items, but it's is also coarse and over- or underprices some stuff.

    Sometimes, I fall back on the DMG 3.5e.

    (I just remembered that I only grant XP for items sold... So this whole answer may not be particularly useful to you.)

    Best
    Johann
  • I meant XP for the magic item, in the sense of "it's treasure, you get XP based on the value of the treasure", not some special category of XP for magic items.

    My assumption had been to reward XP on the basis of some "underlying value" of the loot, rather than the actual going rate at market. That's how I thought most OSR games went. Under this system I still tend to award XP after the players have sold it, so they can't use the XP as a way of gauging the true value, and therefore whether they are getting ripped off by merchants.

    Both of you are advocating instead XP for the value at which you sell the item, which does seem to simplify my problem rather, as I can think more about "what would these NPCs, with access to these resources pay", rather than the intrinsic value.

    I'm quite nervous about awarding a large amount of XP (e.g. 150,000) for this item - it's the first dungeon we've done in this sandbox. I know that in theory the point of the sandbox is that anything can happen. But I feel like if the players were straight away catapulted to high levels, we would miss out on a lot of fun. Any advice for someone new to this? Is my methodology at fault just for including this item without suitably high-level defences? My thinking was that it was a fun module as-written, and the item wouldn't be problematic as it wasn't actually very useful to anyone - especially as I'm assuming that you still die with the Sky Shard, potentially in a painful way, you just get auto-resurrected.

    The 5th edition XP table is here. I think it is less linear than the one Lamentations of the Flame Princess, unless I'm misunderstanding what you mean Eero. It goes up very steeply at low levels and then gradually tapers off. What are the desirable characteristics in an advancement table for a treasure-for-XP sandbox?
  • Possibly I'm just talking myself into this, given my unhygienic desire to avoid a big XP award but, here's my logic for why this item is not a "major artifact":

    * Resurrection is a magic that exists in this setting, albeit a powerful one (available to 13th level casters, going by the book)
    * The shard is actually a portal to a nasty plane full of demons
    * The shard uses the transition from life to death to open the portal and let demons through
    * The energy to resurrect the wielder is sourced from the demonic plane when the portal opens; the shard doesn't contain that power, it's just a conduit.

    Feels pretty hard not to argue that it's at least a minor artifact thought
  • edited January 2018
    I'm with Eero and Johann:

    This isn't a "by-the-book" answer, but a theoretical one. If XPs are viewed as a "score card" for braving your life in adventures, then it makes sense to me that you should adopt one of two methods:

    1. XPs are given out based on the challenge your character went up against.

    This is what modern D&D does: you fought that kind of monster to get the treasure, so you get that much XP.

    This is nice, because the magic item's value/worth can be left out of the picture altogether. How much of a challenge was it to get it, in the first place? That's all you need to know.

    Eero's suggestion of "Quest XP" is, I'd say, basically the same thing.

    2. XPs are given out based on the value of the treasure you bring back from the adventure.

    This is the old-school approach (which I prefer); it encourages cleverness and strategic thinking instead of incentivizing the players to just go fight the biggest monster around when intelligent alternatives exist.

    Under this view, I like to award XP for selling/spending the treasure. In other words, finding something valuable and then selling/spending it is how you get XP in the first place. Finding something valuable *which helps you in future adventures* is its own reward - it will help get more XP, like an investment.

    So, you have a choice: sell/spend the treasure/magical item, for XP... or hold onto it and use it to amass more XP for yourself later.

    I think it's an interesting one.

    The only thing you have to figure out, then, is whether a magical item has an "intrinsic value", or if the PCs earn XP based on how much money they can sell it for. (And also whether spending THAT money earns them XP, afterwards!)

    This is good to think about in advance, before the players try to sell a worthless trinket for 2,000 gold pieces, by conning someone into thinking it's a valuable artifact. You should have some sense of which is the guideline for its "worth" before you get that far, and you all get into an argument about it.


    EDIT: Here's an interesting note from the text from Rules & Magic:

    "Recovering Treasure

    This is the primary method for gaining XP in the game. However, not all monetary gains are counted as “treasure.” The following will gain the characters wealth, but they do not count for XP purposes:

    [...]

    Coins looted from bodies outside of adventure locations
    Rewards
    Selling equipment stripped from foes
    Selling magical items that have been used by a player character or retainer
    [...]"

    (emphasis mine)
  • Eero's first suggestion, that you don't actually get XP for magic items, is my default; they already increase your power by being magical items, therefore you don't get to "double-dip" by getting XP for it as well. I'm not even sure I like the idea of XP for selling them, if I'm being totally honest. Similarly, if the PCs have been given a quest by another person to explicitly retrieve the object (and they actually hand it over), then its value doesn't count for XP even if it's not magical.

    As to your question of whether your methodology is at fault for giving them something very valuable without a corresponding challenge—that depends on your philosophy, but since you say you don't want them catapulting levels right away, I would suggest that in your case the answer is probably yes.

    Third, I seem to recall a rule somewhere in some edition of some game that said you can't gain more than one level per session: if you get enough XP to gain two or more levels, you go up to an XP total of 1 less than what is needed for the next level after that. The rest disappears into the ether. This is maybe sort of half-hygienic, I guess, in that it certainly is a rule that you can apply.

    Fourth, I think the BECMI guidelines for magic item value are Spell Level x 1000 x (number of charges / 10) OR x5 for a permanent effect. In the spirit of frank ruling I'd put a 50,000 GP value on the item and get back to playing the game (that's me trying to make a joke about DMing, not a call to stop discussion).
  • I should also mention that Eero has a good rule for the "too much XP" problem. Simply put, any XP gain in a single adventure is limited to the XP difference between your current level and the next level.

    So, for instance, for a level 2 character: if level 2 is 2,000 XP and level 3 is 4,000 XP, the most XP you can gain from a single adventure is 2,000 XP.

    Very simple and functional.
  • edited January 2018
    I'd say that 50,000 is closer to the mark if you have resurrection magic.

    I think a rule to limit the number of XP you can gain in one go is crucial and might solve the problem: The characters sell it (probably not at market value and to shady buyers) and then have a ton of cash left. It'd be interesting to see what a low-level group does with that.

    (It almost certainly brings up the problem of shopping for (lesser) magic items, but that's a big topic all unto itself...)

    If this is not your cup of tea, talk to the players to eliminate some uncertainty. Maybe they'll agree to buy a derelict wizard's tower waaaay before it's appropriate to their level and then you can break out some adventure module with a tower... The local baron sells them the deed but they have to clear it out. A base for the players is almost always fun in my experience.
  • Lots of points here to address:
    Paul_T said:

    Eero's suggestion of "Quest XP" is, I'd say, basically the same thing.

    It's not the same thing as challenge XP ("more XP for bigger monsters", that is). I know that the word's vague, but what I mean by it is a generalization of the treasure scheme. It doesn't have anything to do with challenge, per se.

    "Quest XP" is when an old adventure module or the GM decide to nilly-willy award XP for achieving something like say rescuing a princess. The text just tells you to give everybody 1000 xp for succeeding in the quest. The amounts are often off by my lights, but the quests themselves are usually legit.

    After thinking about that a lot, I ultimately decided that it is a logical necessity for "quests" (fictional goals) in this sense to exist and be rewarded. There is nothing inherently magical about gold pieces that should privilege them as fictional goals, so that characters could only gain experience points by collecting gold. Would I be willing to say that a chaste crusader could never, ever gain an experience level in my game, simply because they're not interested in filthy lucre? Not likely.

    I don't calculate quest XP off the perceived challenge of the adventure. If I did, it would be little different from just awarding experience points for fighting (still better, but not as good as it should be). Rather, quests get scored in fictional context relative to treasure and other benchmarking measures that have been developed over time. The more important the quest's goal, the more valuable it is in xp. Like, saving the princess is 10 000 XP, while saving the duchess is just 1000 xp, and saving the mayor's daughter is 100 xp. That sort of thing, no different really from treasure xp except the calculations are often somewhat more vague.

    My assumption had been to reward XP on the basis of some "underlying value" of the loot, rather than the actual going rate at market. That's how I thought most OSR games went. Under this system I still tend to award XP after the players have sold it, so they can't use the XP as a way of gauging the true value, and therefore whether they are getting ripped off by merchants.

    Most texts assume that you're doing "underlying value", yeah. I personally think that assuming such a value is itself so unrealistic that I don't do it when selling stuff (equipment) to the players, so I see little reason to use the notion when buying, either. The price is whatever it happens to be, and if you don't like it, you don't have to sell.

    The one big exception to this is when players opt to keep the treasure for themselves. If they're keeping it for strategic purposes (e.g. magic items or suits of armor or such), then it's not worth xp because it's a tool in the pursuit of more success - it's a sunk cost, you don't get xp for the money you put into the adventuring business.

    However, if a player wants to keep an item to enjoy it (outside the strategic game concern, in the spirit of dollhousing with their character), then they get XP for its "nominal value", which I tend to set as the item's rough average sales value in a regional hub - not as much as you could potentially get for it if you actually sold it, but probably more than you'd get in a quick sale. To be able to pick this option the character needs to be in a societal position to enjoy the item. For example, you can only decide to "score" an ancient statue in this way if your character has a mansion they're decorating with ancient statuary. A vagabond holding onto an ancient statue to "enjoy it" doesn't make any sense. On the other hand, a fancy hat is something a vagabond could well decide to enjoy themselves, why not.

    You could theoretically get the nominal xp value for a magic item in this way without selling it if your character was such a sweet, cool little dude as to take that +3 Dragonslayer and put it up as a mantelpiece instead of using it on further adventures [grin].
  • I'm quite nervous about awarding a large amount of XP (e.g. 150,000) for this item - it's the first dungeon we've done in this sandbox. I know that in theory the point of the sandbox is that anything can happen. But I feel like if the players were straight away catapulted to high levels, we would miss out on a lot of fun. Any advice for someone new to this? Is my methodology at fault just for including this item without suitably high-level defences? My thinking was that it was a fun module as-written, and the item wouldn't be problematic as it wasn't actually very useful to anyone - especially as I'm assuming that you still die with the Sky Shard, potentially in a painful way, you just get auto-resurrected.

    Yeah, definitely don't just do that. I'll write a bit more on why not, but basically it amounts to: no way is anybody going to give 150 000 rupees to a bunch of greenhorns, and you're going to have a xp ceiling anyway, so even if somebody does they're not going to get more than one level out of it anyway. Stay tuned for more, I'll get there sooner or later in my rambling.

    The 5th edition XP table is here. I think it is less linear than the one Lamentations of the Flame Princess, unless I'm misunderstanding what you mean Eero. It goes up very steeply at low levels and then gradually tapers off. What are the desirable characteristics in an advancement table for a treasure-for-XP sandbox?

    That table is irregular compared to the tables that all old school D&Ds (LotFP included) use. The old tables use geometric doubling, meaning that every level's requirement doubles the last level's requirement. This means that every level-up requires you to gain half again as much experience - quite a lot.

    In comparison, the 5th edition table starts with geometric doubling, tripling, but then it settles on something resembling 3rd edition triangular progression (a much slower elevation than geometric doubling) when it gets to the mid-levels. It's not simple enough to do justice to in a sentence, but if you want we can do a more detailed exegesis on how it should affect a sandbox in a separate thread. Could well work, assuming you calibrate certain stuff in your setting correctly for it.

    The quick answer to your question is that D&D sandboxes generally value the traditional geometric series progression for its strong attenuation effect: whatever kinds of standard challenges the sandbox presents, their fixed rewards will halve in relative significance for every level a character gains. This means that e.g. a reward that brought a whole level to a character at 1st level will only give them one thousandth of a level at 10th level. The stronger the curve between levels, the less you have to worry about high-level characters gaining undue advantage from low-level adventures.

    You can get that attenuation effect with other sorts of xp tables, of course, but that particular one is nice because it works that way uniformly, and we've sort of gotten used to handling the math.

    For a concrete sandbox example, let's postulate a sandbox environment in which royal mail coaches are worth about 1000 rupees to a daring robber. A fair payday, plus lots of xp to a 1st level outlaw. Thing is, the sandbox logic, when taken seriously, means that this is something that is accessible to the players all the time. You're being unfair and illogical with your setting work if you arbitrarily decide at some point that yeah, you guys are at too high a level to get to rob coaches anymore.

    So what you want your sandbox scheme to actually do is that yeah, those coaches are there, but the 1000 xp per hit starts to become increasingly insignificant for higher-level characters. They can still do it, and it actually gets a bit easier when you have some levels. It could also become a bit more dangerous as the coaches get guarded more, if you're doing it a lot. Still, the big thing is that when you're at 5th level you probably should be doing something more daring to actually get another level (and to keep the excitement of the game up). Kidnap a princess or something, Eero apparently gives you 10 000 xp each for such daring derring-do.

    You could get that same effect by giving xp gain penalties for being too high in level in a low-level adventure, which is precisely what 3rd edition D&D does with its triangular xp scheme. Not only is this approach more complex, but it is also less hygienic, because now you're the pope of adventure level for some reason instead of letting the players gauge for themselves what is the appropriate adventure for them.
  • yukamichi said:

    Third, I seem to recall a rule somewhere in some edition of some game that said you can't gain more than one level per session: if you get enough XP to gain two or more levels, you go up to an XP total of 1 less than what is needed for the next level after that. The rest disappears into the ether. This is maybe sort of half-hygienic, I guess, in that it certainly is a rule that you can apply.

    Yeah, so this rule is ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY for any sort of sensible sandbox game. You can't put the Mahripoor Diamond into the sandbox and then suck your thumb when the PCs steal it; the game needs to have a fair process for what happens then. To wit:

    What if a 1st level character steals the Mahripoor Diamond?
    You need a payout ceiling for how much XP a single adventure can net for a character. This is a known issue, all actually competent sandbox campaign schemes include one. It's not cheating the players of anything or something like that, but rather think of it as the definition of "full victory": when you have "won enough" to hit the score ceiling, get the fuck out of that dungeon and go celebrate that victory. Hit that same dungeon a second time if it's really such a fat wallet that you can get multiple levels out of it.

    The traditional ceiling that many use is the AD&D DMG instruction of "you can rise at most halfway to the next level in a single bite" (I might remember that wrong, it's either that or "one point shy of two levels at once"). I find that clunky mathematically and otherwise myself, so the one I currently use is "you can at most double your XP count in a single adventure, with the minimum capacity equivalent to your 2nd level level limit". So e.g. a 1st level Fighter can get at most 2000 xp for the adventure with my limit; once they hit 2nd level the limit is simply their current xp score, which they can double in one swoop.

    This obviously means that if a party finds a humongous treasure, they get their level-ups out of it, but no more; you don't get to skip multiple levels just because the sandbox gave you an extraordinary opportunity. You obviously get to keep the actual money, the "excess" doesn't disappear anywhere.

    If you don't have something like this, then you can't really run an organic sandbox; you need to always be on the watchout for situations where the party might accidentally get access to the god-king's zillion-rubles treasure vault, catapulting them to 30th level just like that. With a scoring ceiling per heist that's not a problem.

    While we're at it, let's sell that sucker:

    What does it mean to get the "going rate" for the Mahripoor Diamond?
    Always remember when pricing priceless artifacts that when you're the seller "priceless" means "I'm not getting its full value, no matter what".

    (The following assumes old school D&D economics, I don't know off the top of my hat what you'd get for a gold piece in 5th edition.)

    If the party expects to sell their priceless artifact in a small town, to the local banksman or general store manager, either of whom might be willing to fence small treasure, what will they get for it? Let's say that they manage to demonstrate the item's true power, and let's also say that they want to get their money now, rather than later.

    My answer would be, given an average small town, that they're getting 10 000 rupees for it or so. (Likely about enough to hit that score ceiling for a 1st level party, note - it's a victory!) And most of that's going to be in the form of a payment order or delayed payment of some sort, not like the store has the money sitting in the till. Even then you might have to pass some sort of Charisma check to talk the local fence into taking the risk of their life: they know that it's a really valuable item, but that payment's gonna sting, and they still need to figure out where to unload the item later on.

    So you decide to travel to a big city and look for a big professional fence. The price jumps up to maybe 50 000 rupees just like that (although obviously the first offer'll be 10k, and you need to haggle the big fat pro fence up), but it's work (some minor expense, too) and a bit of risk (what if somebody tries to steal it once they hear about it), and takes time. If the party has the outlay they need (enough money for the travel and such until they get to the payday) you could just take care of all this with a few quick rolls, and a month or two later the party is back at the dungeon (or not, if they're smart - they're pretty wealthy now, after all).

    Going even higher than that is not realistically going to work for a 1st level party that doesn't have specialty contacts, simply because they're not economically and politically solid enough to hold onto that sort of wealth by themselves. If they just go to London or Paris and declare that they've got Christ's Crossbones here, and they shit living manna, and the biggest offer's gonna get the bones, you think nobody's going to take that away from them? They need a friendly patron to back them if they want to really try to wring that magic item for all its worth. A smart cookie will take the 50k and run, but theoretically you could get up to 100k or 200k (or 500k if you're really pushing it) by setting up a grand auction. You invite the German princes, you invite the fairy gods, whomever to bid. As Johann said, it's gonna take months.

    You want to really rake it in, you're not even taking money - we're talking titles here. You trade that big artifact for a noble fief or imperial sinecure + marriage or whatever it is that the setting uses to gauge position. Again, good luck trying to do that if you're just a hoodlum with the golden goose; the first ambitious and unscrupulous person on your way is going to take it away, obviously. An adventure in its own right to do the fairy tale schtick successfully and trade a clever trick or two for the princess and half a kingdom.

    In summation: that first heist is just worth 10k rupees. You want more for that item, you need to start thinking in terms of a second adventure in the world of merchant princes and auction halls. If the group isn't interested in doing that (it's a genuinely different sort of adventure), just roll a few rolls and give them 50k for it.
  • Okay, so this is all very helpful. Feeling less panicked :)

    To summarise what I think I might do tomorrow (and going forwards):
    1. Award XP for a) coins brought back to town and b) the sale value of other loot
    2. By all means, value priceless artifacts at 50,000 GP or higher
    3. Better prices may require an adventure of their own. Rookies are less likely to command the attention of serious buyers.
    4. Introduce a cap on the amount of XP a character can gain in a single haul.

    And in particular, it may be quite hard to sell an item of immortality (unless the buyer knows the lore of the item) without demonstrating its efficacy. Which in this case will probably result in horrible demons from another world, which will tend to depress the price. ;)

    I think I might switch to geometric doubling for XP, but still start at 5th edition's very low 300XP threshold to get to level 2. The reason being that, in my opinion, levels 1 and 2 in D&D 5 are a tutorial on how to play your character, with you arriving at the full set of moves for, say, a fighter at level 3.
  • So what you want your sandbox scheme to actually do is that yeah, those coaches are there, but the 1000 xp per hit starts to become increasingly insignificant for higher-level characters. They can still do it, and it actually gets a bit easier when you have some levels.

    Incidentally, this is one reason why I like save-or-die effects and (deadly) critical hit tables: There's always a risk, even for the mightiest characters. A character's chance to save vs. poison may approach 90%, and maybe he even has some items like a ring of second chances to grant a re-roll or whatever, but the risk is never zero: The party might be ambushed by monstrous spiders in a low-level dungeon or might get a very unlikely, challenging result on an outdoor encounter chart etc.. All it takes is some really bad luck.

    So, sure, the players can send their high-level characters into a low-level dungeon, and I guess in most situations we shouldn't bother rolling the dice (or cut some deal, as Eero does if I remember correctly, like "How about Xd6 of damage to the party and we assume the skeleton horde goes down?").

    But barring special circumstances or motivations, it's just not gonna be worth it. Insignificant XP and a non-zero risk of losing precious high-level characters.
  • edited January 2018
    MartinEden,

    What I like to do is to award XP for a) getting treasure out of a dungeon, and then again for b) selling or spending it on something that's not investing back into their adventuring plans.

    For magical items, I would probably just give them the choice of using (for no XP; it's its own reward) it OR selling/ransoming/being rewarded for it in gold. When they receive gold for it, that's effectively "getting treasure", and they score XP for THAT normally.

    What I like about "awarding XP twice" is the nuance between scoring treasure and investing in frivolous livelihood things (I love Eero's example of hanging a magical sword above the fireplace!), and, as a secondary benefit, I can cut the amount of treasure in half. Makes the math easier, and I find it more believable, too - otherwise I have to explain how these huge amounts of gold are just lying around, how they affect the local economy, and so forth.

    Eero,

    This is a bit of a tangent about "Quest XP", but I hope it will be interesting and relevant to the thread, as well, because, ultimately, setting XP for "Quests" is not that different from setting XP for famous or magical items - after all, obtaining one is arguably a Quest.

    I'm very curious now about how you handle this, because apparently I've been assuming things about how you run Quest XP which may not be how you play at all.

    My understanding until now:

    * XP is a gauge of "player success" in a game, like keeping score.
    * The way you pursue XP is to engage in challenges and adventures.
    * While XP isn't *always* perfectly aligned with the level of challenge, it is agreed that it *represents* a reward for overcoming challenges. This is reflected, for instance, in the idea that finding treasure in a dungeon (i.e. against stiff opposition/challenge) is worth XP, but stealing it from an old man in the village is not (there's no challenge there, so it's not worth any "points" to do so - it's not interesting to us to see your characters beating up an old man, after all).

    I like the way you outline a somewhat objective "scale" for offering such rewards: for instance, rescuing a Princess is worth more points than rescuing a Baroness.

    However, then you say that setting up these Quest XP rewards isn't about the level of challenge involved. Fundamentally, isn't setting the XP reward a reflection of the expected challenge involved? Isn't the process of saying "this is worth XP" a direct recognition that something might be an interesting fictional challenge for our players to engage with?

    Or would you award 10,000 XP for rescuing a princess even if the situation was incredibly simple and easy to solve, and happened to fall into the players' laps? My understanding is that rescuing a Princess might be worth 10,000 XP precisely because, presumably, rescuing a Princess won't be an easy thing - whoever kidnapped her in the first place must have had some serious resources to do so, other powers-that-be may want to capture her themselves, and so on. Much like how gold doesn't have a magic property making it "XP-worthy", isn't that also true of noble titles bestowed upon young ladies?

    If I understand your playstyle correctly, it's important to set the goalposts and not to move them; so, once it's established that rescuing a Princess is worth XP, if the players find an easy way to do so, they've played well and deserve the reward. However, I can't envision any way in which coming up with the idea that "rescuing a Princess = 10,000 XPs" isn't based on the idea of expected challenge in the first place.

    Much like stumbling on some gold isn't worth a full XP reward, neither should finding a sleeping Princess at the bar and carrying her back to her father's castle, right?
  • That's a good question, Paul, and yes, there's clearly more that I can tell about my philosophy on this. I'll try for an overview - some stuff you've seen, surely, but maybe it's new to others.

    The gist of it is that I think the system works most logically overall when we separate two issues from each other and treat them independently:
    1) Is some achievement worthy of gaining XP for?
    2) How much XP would this event gain you, if it were worthy of gaining XP?

    I've done some exegesis on both of these before. As you know, I hold that XP-worthy events in D&D are accomplished goals in worthwhile adventurous pursuits. I can see no good reason why determining what counts and what doesn't count shouldn't be up to the group: if it's something you want to play through in "challenge mode" (as opposed to just chatting about it casually, as part of the fictional build-up and dollhousing), then it should also count for XP. Conversely, if something is so trivial or convoluted that you don't really need or want to (or even can't) play it, then it doesn't count for XP either.

    This principle should answer clearly for how there are all sorts of play situations that might resemble adventure in some ways, yet do not actually engage legit adventure play and thus do not count for XP:
    * A successful CHA check on the market, resulting in a modest profit while selling apples, is not XP-worthy because the group culture doesn't consider this sort of thing a legit adventurous challenge.
    * Stealing the pants off the old man down the street doesn't count because the GM doesn't perceive it as a challengeful situation. You can do it, sure, and we might even roll some dice for the consequences and such, but it's still not a real adventure.
    * When your character goes on a crusade and the GM agrees to some dicing which determines that the character comes back in 3 years, 10 000 rupees richer, that doesn't count either: it's just some background positioning stuff, not real adventuring in the procedural sense of playing the game. You gotta game the wargame to get the points.

    And contrariwise, there are all sorts of situations that do count:
    * OK, so killing some goblins in a dungeon for their treasure is a no-brainer, the rules texts the world over practically define this as legit adventuring.
    * The princess has been kidnapped and imprisoned in a tower guarded by a dragon. It would be outright absurd to say that this isn't a worthwhile adventure, the entire group is excited to see how they'll do against a dragon. No treasure, though.
    * The GM likes the idea of a broadly exploration-themed game, and is rewarding XP for mapping and discovering things as a default - no need to separately establish your character as an explorer, it's going to count every time you explore, just like discovering treasure. Cool, the other players are unlikely to object.

    As I understand it, this part's clear to us both, yes? Either something is legit adventure protocol achievement stuff, or it's ancillary, accidental, even outright non-play. When we talk about quest XP, we're really just talking about treasure XP - treasure XP is one kind of quest xp, it's just a default quest that's always on. "Get rich or die trying."

    So we know when to award XP for something. Now, the second part: how much XP do you gain? You suggest in your breakdown that this is or should be ultimately related to the amount of challenge involved in the adventure. I both agree and disagree with this:
    Yes: I agree in that the campaign reward standards should be calibrated to correctly reflect the magnitude of various achievements. If gold is cheap as bread in the setting, then you need to switch out of 1xp = 1gp, for instance; you can't just blindly award xp on the same standard you'd do in a default setting.
    No: I do not agree that rewards should scale to the challenge occurring in individual adventures. I think that it is ultimately impossible and unhygienic to determine the level of challenge in advance; you'll only know how hard it is once you see the players tackle it. You should give XP from a dungeon on the basis of how much treasure was carried out, not on the basis of how many dangers were encountered.
  • edited January 2018
    This "gauging problem" for how much XP to award is untrivial in D&D, I think; the only reason the game fundamentally works historically is that the treasure gauge works very well and lets us make mistakes with other sorts of quest xp without messing up the game altogether. Once you expand out of that, though, you need to do more work on how to set your quest xp awards. My suggestion is specific to setting, campaign - you need to determine what sort of achievements are appropriate for characters at various power levels and work from there:
     
    Level What's it like How much treasure? Damsels in distress? Political achievements? Cultural achievements?
    Low Scrabbling in mud and shit The troves of tombs, outlaws, aborogines; thousands of coin. Mayor's daughter Become the chief Discover the Lost Valley
    Medium  Heroic adventure Rare, exceptional opportunities: temples, palaces; tens of thousands of coin Daughters of the high nobility Become a duke Discover another world
    High Epic adventure  Rarely applicable at this level Royal daughters Become a king Discover the origin of the species
     
    I intend that table to be an example of how one particular GM might at one point in time conceptualize their campaign setting. It's not ultra-detailed because I don't have all day here, but I hope that it communicates a few things:
    * We can pin down ideas about various types of adventurous achievement that might occur in the setting. For example, we might know that this campaign's gonna be about rescuing damsels in distress.
    * We can have an idea of what's the expected "rarity level" of various types of achievement is. Note that it's achievement, not challenge: we're conceptualizing what the expected type of hero is when a princess needs rescuing, not the level of challenge involved. Specifically, we might think that princesses are in peril really rarely in this setting, but when they are, it's a Big Deal. It's gonna be something appropriate for 10th level epic heroes. It's not something that happens to small fish in fantasy Vietnam, we're well in the fairy tale romance country by that point.
    * We are not figuring out the minimum levels for dealing with various types of content. Rather, we are figuring out what level you should become by successfully dealing with this kind of thing. If you're rescuing princesses regularly, you should gain XP so that if you're not yet at 10th level, that'll be soon corrected. The achievement makes the man.

    This, therefore, is my answer to the gauging problem: you need to determine how much a princess is worth in your setting, and stick to that. You make this determination on aesthetic grounds. If there's a princess under every rock, it's not as big a deal as it is if it's a setting-shaking scandal of the century when a monster captures a princess. The "princess" is just a fictional emblem for the game, after all, it might as well be a "golden statue" if you're playing with fundamentalist gygaxians who get nosebleeds if xp is awarded for non-monetary goals [grin].

    That same logic goes for treasure, by the way: your treasure XP reward needs to be such that a 1st level character in a common treasure-grubbing adventure can gain a level out of it, but not so much that a 10th level character is still clearing out goblin nests. (Giving that tenner simply bigger goblin nests to clear is moronic artistry, by the way, if you ask me; D&D can do so much more. You should cap that treasure hauling at whatever point makes economic sense and send the heroes forth to do something else. Or retire and start up new ones if dungeoneering's all your campaign has.)

    So that's how I arrive at something like "a princess is worth 10 000 xp". As you can see, I never determined how challenging saving a princess is: I merely decided that I want characters who do that to be or become high-level wuxia fuckers. That's how I know the correct number to input. Which, by the way, 10 000 is not - I want it to be 100 000 xp per princess if I want it to be a legit high-level reward, as per the usual old school level-up math.

    Does all this sandbox logic lead to misrewarded adventures? In my experience not, because the individual adventures are still often specifically crafted, and people don't usually intentionally create adventures with awfully mismatched challenge/reward ratios. Various organic situations are more likely to crop up outside particular adventure modules, but then how is that any different from how treasure is treated? A genuine sandbox has treasure all over the place, and if the PCs decide to go rob a bank, the setting math should work to make sense of that. Maybe they figure some way to steal huge amounts of treasure, and if so, good for them. Same for princesses: if you can figure out a way to kidnap/rescue princesses easily, that's how you win the game.
  • To top that off, I'll remind you of my basic assumption: I do not believe that the GM is qualified to determine many things that are taken for granted by the viking hat school of GMing. For example: I don't know how dangerous adventures are in advance, I can only guess. I therefore am incapable of determining how much XP an adventure should award on the basis of how dangerous it is.

    What I barely believe in being in my power is determining whether we are in fact playing the game at a given time. I can tell you if this story about Paul's 3rd level Fighter killing a giant and saving a damsel was something that was gamed through as per procedure, or if it was just something that he told us about as part of his character's backstory or downtime adventures or whatever. If I was there and saw the dicing, I know that it happened as a game activity, and therefore XP can legitimately be assigned.

    Considering the above you can see why I split the XP award question in two parts: the "did something XP-worthy occur or not" question is something I can answer within my jurisdiction as a GM, with confidence. The "how much" question is something I can't answer solely on that competency, because the rule isn't that "you get however much XP the GM feels like granting". The rule is, rather, that XP grants are objectively read off the agreed-upon events of play: you have 10 000 rupees, you get 10 000 xp, and that's that. Those two pieces of knowledge come from different places and are verified by different processes.
  • Very interesting, Eero. I *think* that we see this in much the same way, but I'm conceptualizing it quite inside-out from the way you are.

    It seems to me that you are creating a dichotomy in your mind in order to create space for some "mental hygiene" in this department; to create a way to assign XP awards to outcomes in a somewhat objective way.

    In my way of looking at things, the XP reward is still based on the sense of expected challenge (as you show by, for instance, your example of princesses under every stone being clearly not worth of a high XP reward). However, that should be judged in advance of the action - to decide how point a goal is worth after it's been scored is unhygienic, in other words.

    Agreeing, as a group, that rescuing princesses is worthwhile play for us, we can assign a particular value to the endeavour - and this is where, in my view, we take into account the expected "challenge" involved.

    As you point out, if we were to rescue the princess and *then* ask ourselves whether it was so difficult as to warrant 5,000 XP or 10,000 XP, we've clearly erred. No, we have to decide on some way to "score" such accomplishments before they are attempted, so that player strategy can be rewarded in the game. (Since strategy largely comes down to making success easier for oneself, after all.)

    Your approach here changes the conversation from a) "Hey, there's a princess here to rescue. Looks tough, so we should say it's worth a lot of XP, right?" to b) "We know that princesses are worth this much. So, when we see the potential opportunity to rescue one, we examine the circumstances and try to judge whether it's worth it for us to pursue or not." This seems quite vital to a healthy sandbox (although less so to an adventure game where players do not actually choose their adventures - that's less fun, of course, but still functional as a style of play, it seems to me).

    Assuming we're seeing eye-to-eye (which I believe we are), I'm now curious how this kind of thing is negotiated at your table in actual practice. (And this is where we can hope to apply the same logic and the same procedure to assigning XP value to magical items, so as to provide something useful to the OP here!)

    When and how do XP rewards for non-treasure things like princesses and magical items get assigned in your game? What's that process or conversation like? What considerations are made, and who gets what kind of say in it?

  • If I read it correctly, it's not quite the expected challenge level as much as the general availability of the quest-object that determines the XP value.
  • It's not quite availability either. It's more the thematic resonance - dramatic significance, if you will.

    Perhaps this would be easier to understand if it wasn't rescuing princesses, but instead killing monsters. Straightforward:

    Killing an ogre is a noble deed for a 1st level character, so let's say that you get 1000 xp for doing it. That's enough for it to cause a level-up in the not-so-distant future for a low-level character. In other words, it's an appropriate deed of valour at low levels.

    Killing a dragon is a heroic feat, so let's say that you get 10 000 xp for it. A party could do it and split that, sure, but if you're soloing it, that's a solid mid-level reward. Anybody up to 4th level is probably going to level by doing it.

    As you can see, I'm not characterizing the difficulty of doing those things or even really their rarity in the setting. Both of those things come into the judgement only organically through the setting-simulation thinking: do I categorize this achievement as a relatively realistic low-level deed, or a relatively romantic, fantastic high-level one? It's not purely a raw aesthetic choice because high-level deeds are more rare than low-level deeds, and high-level characters are more important for the setting, so this choice has setting implications, but it is aesthetic in the sense that I can decide for myself what the setting is like. If I want to, I could switch around all the lego pieces and make it so that ogres really are the Big Deal rare romantic monsters that low-levelers never deal with, while they do mess around with dragons all the time. The most obvious way to support that would be to make ogres statistically more dangerous than dragons (so villagers need to wait for a wuxia badass to come in and save them instead of killing the ogre themselves), but that is not why ogres would garner you the big points: it would be because I chose so, and presented the ogres in that way.

    (An example of why an ogre devoid of combat danger might be worth that: what if they're gregarious mind-witches that only show up as a consequence of divination magic abuse, infesting elite families and corrupting entire societies from within? Think Gilles de Rais, the historical arch-ogre. Rare yet quite significant, not because of the immediate combat risk, but rather because of the high stakes involved with them.)

    Stakes, consequences, nature of the accomplishment, impact on the overall setting - these are the facets that determine how much XP a quest should gain, I think. The gold piece thing obscures this because the game assumes a stable gold piece value, but when we abandon the treasure metric, it becomes clearer that the only thing that keeps the gold pieces under appropriately-leveled guard in the setting are internal dynamic forces of the setting. Same thing should be true for princesses or monster head-hunting: the accomplishment's value is fixed, and the setting dynamics ensure that appropriate forces are committed to defending those goals against greedy adventurers.
  • Right; I think we're talking about the same thing.

    I'm still curious about what this looks like in practice - who says what at the table.
  • Paul_T said:

    Assuming we're seeing eye-to-eye (which I believe we are), I'm now curious how this kind of thing is negotiated at your table in actual practice. (And this is where we can hope to apply the same logic and the same procedure to assigning XP value to magical items, so as to provide something useful to the OP here!)

    When and how do XP rewards for non-treasure things like princesses and magical items get assigned in your game? What's that process or conversation like? What considerations are made, and who gets what kind of say in it?

    Before an adventure starts there is an adventure hook: some sort of idea for what the party is going to do, and why. So let's say that they're looking for an artefact, the Sky Shard. Here's how the negotiation might go in a given campaign:

    GM: OK, so you're looking for the Sky Shard as part of your epic attempt to resurrect the princess. Legend has it that the item should be capable of doing this, so seems sensible to try.
    Player: But sir, we should get XP for this mighty deed. We can't sell the Sky Shard, even. My character is fully motivated, you understand, but the precepts of the game go awry if he gains no points for passionately facing danger!
    GM: This is so indeed, and that's why we have the Quest XP rules. You remember the drill: the adventurers can declare in advance their heroic goal, and should they accomplish that goal, they gain a XP award for it quite aside from any treasure haul. However, there is a cost: a questing character gains only half normal XP for their treasure share, as they are less invested in getting rich on this one assignment!
    Player: Yes, this is precisely what I want. How much XP for discovering the Sky Shard, sir?
    GM: None. It's a magic item and we don't give out XP for those in this campaign per se. What your quest is about is resurrecting the princess, the Sky Shard is just a tool for it.
    Player: So...
    GM: We use the Altruist Deeds reward table, same as always: you gain 1 xp per person your heroic deed succors, or 100 xp per their level for leveled clients, or as per the feudal rank table, whichever is highest. Double for saving their life as opposed to merely helping them out in a life-changing way.
    Player: This is clearly saving a princess from mortal peril, sir. 100 000 experience points total!
    GM: Yes, but consider the political situation: the princess's revival will also revive the Imperial Dream - we're talking of the hopes and dreams of the entire nation. Now, I don't buy the idea that the whole population really cares, but the royal family is this romantic fantasy sort of deal here, so let's say that one third of them on average would celebrate your deed as life-changing...
    Player: With a population base of one million people that's like 300 000 xp?
    GM: Something of the sort. Technically speaking, as we have well-defined rules for heroic deed XP, there's no need to bicker over it further: we can just play the scenario and find out what you achieve, and then score it on that basis. Maybe you'll just manage to revive the princess, but somehow ruin her political prospects in the process, or maybe you manage to somehow turn her into a non-princess, philosophically speaking, and thus ruin your own reward... we'll see how it goes, no need to fixate on a number just yet.
    Player: Quite so, sir.
    GM: Now, remember that the reward is split between the party evenly, except if you have a clear leader in this endeavour, they'll get 50% of the points off the top before the companions split the rest. This is different from treasure XP due to the different nature of an abstract achievement like this; you can think of it as "fame experience" if the simile helps, although technically nobody needs to know about your heroic deed for it to count for XP. The big hero gets the most points, which is important because I think we have just such a big hero here?
    Player: Indeed, sir! My character, knight PC, has been dreadfully smitten by the princess this whole time. It's pretty obvious to everybody here that he's leading this endeavour - we wouldn't even be doing this if my character didn't care so much, right?
    GM: So that's settled, then. Is there anybody here who is not motivated by the quest?
    Player 2: Well, sir, as you know I'm a dumb teenager who has trouble engaging with the social and political aspects of the campaign. I'm here just to roll dice and kill monsters. My character is a lone wolf psycho who couldn't really imagine living with a personal commitment to a higher ideal.
    GM: Well said Player 2. So your character's outside the Quest deal. He will gain full XP for any treasure you may find, but he'll gain no benefit for the Quest. He will still consume a share of the Quest XP from the others, though, for dumb math reasons I won't bore you with right now.
  • So in that example dialogue we're positing a campaign in which quests are relatively routine, and the group is using some rules to gauge how much rescuing a princess pays off. You understand, obviously, that the same kind of process would work the same if "discover an ancient artefact" was the quest goal instead of "rescue the princess". Like so:

    GM: OK, so you're looking for the Sky Shard as part of your epic attempt to resurrect the princess. Legend has it that the item should be able to do this, so it's certainly appropriate to try. This is going to be a Quest, right - we'll determine a XP reward for it.
    Player: Hells yeah, sir! As this is a mystery archeology campaign, we'll get XP for discovering the Sky Shard, right?
    GM: You do, indeed. I've categorized ancient artifacts into tiers as per their originating culture, which ties thematically into the secret history of the setting, and directly into what one might expect of the item's power. So the Sky Shard might be either a minor or major artefact, and it might be Atlantean, Divine, Eldritch or something else in origin... here's the table for calculations if you want to look at that some more.
    Player: But sir, what about the princess? If we're going straight by the artefact xp reward table, does that mean that there's no extra reward for saving the princess?
    GM: That's how it goes in this campaign, soldier - the artefact is the thing, what you do with it on your own time is your own business. Revive a princess or whatever, not my problem.
    Player: But sir, my character, knight PC, is not really motivated by the artefact so much as he is by his love for the princess.
    GM: Well, we could negotiate for a special quest reward, but I'm pretty pleased with myself as regards the Sky Shard - isn't it elegant how this is a mystery archeology campaign, and it just so happens that your character's personal goal is inextricably tied with succeeding in mystery archeology? It's no different from your character wanting to start a dairy farm and needing money to do it - we wouldn't give you XP for the dairy farm, we would give you XP for the treasure you garner, because the treasure is the more interchangeable and thematically generic goal of the two, even if it's just an utility value for your dairy queen character.
    Player: I understand, sir. The XP comes out about the same anyway, or it should if we have a whit of sense in how we use the rules. Big points for big scores, right.
    GM: Quite so. Any other questions?
    Player: Of course, sir: how much XP if we find it? The Sky Shard, I mean!
    GM: Obviously you don't need to know, because you know the reward scheme. Find out what the Sky Shard is, exactly, and you'll be able to calculate its value right off the reward table. As long as you don't know, you can only guess. Maybe it's an Atlantean artifact? That'd make it 2000-10 000 xp, depending on its pluses - as you know, "Atlantean artefact" is just my pet way of saying "traditional D&D magic item", and those are categorized as per their pluses.
    Player: Just like with gold pieces, then - we don't know how many there are in the dungeon before we go in and take a look. Well, I'm willing to bet that the Sky Shard is a minor Divine artefact, which would net us 20 000 xp. Besides, this adventure hook is pretty sweet, I'm pretty sure that if it's not the Sky Shard, there's going to be some lesser artefacts in there.
    GM: Well that assumption's on you for now. The important thing is that we're agreed - the party is going into danger to discover the Sky Shard. Remember that as a categorized "artifact" the Sky Shard will award you XP for discovering it and bringing it to civilization, but there won't be any extra rewards for using it or selling it - it's not "treasure" in the technical sense, it's an "artifact" with its own reward rules. Is there anybody in the party who is not motivated by this quest?
    Player 2: Well, sir, as you know I'm a teenage moron who often has difficulty engaging these lofty social roleplaying elements that brought about this whole princess thing. I'm here simply to roll the dice and kill some monsters, and my character is a selfish jerkass who's only tolerated by the party due to adventure gaming conventions. What if I don't want to rescue no princess?
    GM: Well, as you know taking on a Quest has its price: all these other adventurers will halve their treasure XP gain for this adventure, as they're being motivated by loftier ideals than their greed. You can simply join them on the adventure on the premise that there might be ample treasure to be had as well. You won't benefit of the artifact XP reward, whatever it may be, but you'll gain full value for your treasure share. Could be a better deal for all we know, particularly if the expedition ends up just stealing some golden cobblestones from the ancient ruins before hightailing out, long before finding your actual quest goal, like you did last time.
  • And let's do one more, because why not. In this one we're doing "raw negotiation" because the campaign does not have any well-defined ancillary xp tables for rescuing princesses or discovering magic items. It's been strictly "find the treasure or die trying" so far.

    GM: OK, so you want to quest for the Sky Shard to revive the princess from her death-like slumber. Sounds good to me. Here's some basic background, what anybody would know of the Sky Shard in this town. However, I gotta warn you for clarity's sake: there's no guarantee of a monetary reward here, what with her family all dead and the Darklord scouring the countryside for any of her supporters.
    Player: Oh, but that's not very fair, sir. We should get XP for adventuring. Seems pretty arbitrary that this one time our characters finally have a juicy, romantic reason to adventure, and the game rewards us for not doing it. Should we just go kill some goblins instead?
    GM: I agree with you fully, young padawan. What we do in a situation like this is, we establish a so-called "quest", a special reward condition that scores XP just like treasure would, except it's not treasure in the fiction. Saving the princess sounds like an obviously fine quest to me.
    Player: That's sweet, sir. Why aren't we doing that all the time?
    GM: Well, you need to actually, factually, have a sweet gig in the fiction before this sort of thing becomes relevant, plus you lose some treasure share... eh, just go and read what my alternate universe doubles told you earlier in the thread, it's all in there. I only brought it up now because we need this expanded rules concept to take the game where we want it to go here.
    Player: Very good, sir. So, you just grant us some XP after we find the Sky Shard and revive the princess?
    GM: Sort of, but we have a problem first: I don't know how much that reward should be, and neither do you. You don't stop to think about it when you play, but you actually usually have a pretty good sense for the possible rewards involved in dungeoneering. It's gonna be piles of gold, you gotta carry it out of the dungeon, and you know that there's probably not going to be like insane Scrooge moneybin kind of money in there. So you have at least a magnitude for it.
    Player: So what, sir? You lost me with this philosophy.
    GM: Just listen well: the problem is that with the princess it would be unfair to send you to the dungeon without you having any sort idea of what to expect in terms of scoring. How would you know whether you should rob a bank or kill some goblin instead if you have nothing to go on? What if I decide to give you 1 experience point for the ordeal?
    Player: Surely you wouldn't do that, sir. We trust you to be fair.
    GM: Well yeah, but that doesn't help if I don't know what it is to be fair on this. We need to set up some ground rules at least - or perhaps, because Player 2's eyes seem to be glazing over, it'd be better if we just agreed upon a number for now. I can always come back to this later and write up some real guidelines for the general case - an "advanced Princess rescuing rules guideline table" if you will. Might be useful if you're going to be doing this sort of adventuring a lot in the future.
    Player: Yeah, I'm cool with it if you just give us a number. It's going to be more certain than usual, as we usually don't know how much treasure, if any, there'll be in the dungeon, but I suppose there are still uncertainties here. For instance, do we even know where to look for the Sky Shard? Remember, we spent the last three adventures combing essentially empty dungeons, so it's not like we couldn't just look in the wrong place for the artefact, too.
    GM: You're arguing my argument for me, I like that. Anyway, I'm going to suggest that "rescuing a princess" is emblematic sort of adventuring bullshit for us here, it should rank high. Similar numbers to "kill a dragon and steal its hoard". We're doing vanilla fantasy here after all, what more is there to being an adventurer? Big score, rescuing a princess!
    Player: Oh, I quite agree, but we're sort of low-ish on the level range. Take it easy on us, I'm just 4th level here and the rest are even lower than that. We can't take a high-level adventure!
    GM: Not my problem. If you only care for the princess that much, perhaps you better let her lie and go kill those goblins. This is gonna be some epic shit, I promise you. I'll need to pick where the Sky Shard lies, and it just wouldn't make sense for it to be in some pawn shop where you can just go in and buy it. The Sky Shard's epicness demands it, and so does the princess theme. For hygiene reasons I'll be randomizing this stuff within certain boundaries, but a cakewalk is going to be pretty unlikely here.
    Player: Give us the number, and we'll see whether it's enticing enough, sir.
    GM: OK, so it's going to be big... how would you feel about a sweet even 100 000, or only half that if the princess hates you after her rescue? That last bit's just me working my thematic muscles, we don't know yet if it's gonna matter any or not.
    Player: Hmm, a guaranteed 50 000... that's pretty good, it dings the scoring cap for the whole party. We can even take like half a dozen henchmen with us and still get maximum points for this. Can we haggle?
    GM: We can haggle, sure, but I think we shouldn't do it from IC perspective. Your character doesn't even know what XPs are, they're a metagame conceit. Therefore it makes more sense to discuss this as a fairness issue - what should rescuing a princess be worth in the abstract?
    Player 3: Hey, maybe it should depend on her beauty? Like, 10 000 xp per point of Charisma?
    GM: I'm willing to entertain this sort of misogyny, this whole game is already such a revel in macho bullshit that it's not like you can make me take this any more ironically. Should only be 5000 xp per point, though, to be more in line with other XP rewards.

    As you can see, the group negotiates the reward scheme, both in terms of general guidelines and in terms of specific, on the spot ideas. The GM works towards consistency in the rewards - he's backed by his general sense of what's appropriate at what level, his sense of scale. How much XP should you get for an adventure that represents the same amount of merit that a 100 000 gp dragon hoard does? Obviously, the same amount.
  • Fascinating, Eero! Huh. I'll give it some thought.
  • edited January 2018
    In my campaign, the characters level up via XP-for-gold at low levels only. To get to name level and beyond, the characters additionally need to complete a quest (or great quest for the last few levels).

    (In practice, all quests so far have yielded gold well in excess of what the characters needed to level up, but that's fine given that there were losses and that the PCs at that point were busy planning to buy castles and such etc.)

    As with magic items, I prefer a coarse (very granular) system because it's easier to gauge things. There are only quests and great quests and that's it.

    A quest is something that confers lasting local fame (i.e. in this kingdom, your deed will be known for centuries) and is news in adjacent principalities. Taking down the "Steading of the Hill Giant Chief" or "White Plume Mountain" and similar modules qualify, as does clearing a patch of wilderness to build your own castle, temple or wizard's tower etc.

    A great quest is a deed for the ages. The exploits of Ulysses, Hercules etc. are appropriate models. Gygax' infamous "Tomb of Horrors", the campaign-busting "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks", slaying the First Vampire who spawned all others and similar deeds are examples. We have not progressed to that point yet, but I've put that stuff out there (as I aim to always have at least three quests and three great quests on offer -- plus anything that comes up in the course of play and which indeed outnumbers the DM's offers at this point).

    I grab all sorts of modules to put on the map (not necessarily physically) and their actual challenge no doubt varies: First, they are recommended for different levels. Secondly, they are for different systems (D&D, AD&D, DCC, D&D 3e etc.) and I convert stuff which further complicates things.

    (Also, objectively determining "challenge" is all but impossible without statistics, in my opinion. How many different groups does the same DM have to run a given module for before you gain significant insights, anyway?)

    I think it's a feature, not a bug, that I do not really know how hard the modules are because I only want to be in the right ballpark.

    Because I rely on XP-for-gold only at low levels, I don't have to negotiate how much every hostage saved in a hostage scenario is worth etc. The drawback is that I don't have a system in place to handle such stuff should it come up.


    No: I do not agree that rewards should scale to the challenge occurring in individual adventures.

    I think that a DM shouldn't count the number of ogres in a dungeon, evaluate the evil magician's spell selection, or speculate how the situation in room 4A might play out -- but despite Eero's elaborate answers and examples, I still don't see a way around judging individual modules and challenges regarding their "challenge level", however coarsely.

    Eyeballing the monster roster ("Old dragon? That's at least a quest."), the module's reputation (Tomb of Horrors, anyone?) and various other factors seems the way to go (to me, anyway). Fortunately, it's no big deal if you're somewhat off the mark (in a finely-graded system) or very unlikely to be off the mark (in a granular system).
  • edited January 2018
    Johann said:

    In my campaign, the characters level up via XP-for-gold at low levels only. To get to name level and beyond, the characters additionally need to complete a quest (or great quest for the last few levels).

    Oh, that's all very nice. I like the way you define lesser and greater quests, and all that. Solid structural conceptualization.
    Johann said:

    Eyeballing the monster roster ("Old dragon? That's at least a quest."), the module's reputation (Tomb of Horrors, anyone?) and various other factors seems the way to go (to me, anyway). Fortunately, it's no big deal if you're somewhat off the mark (in a finely-graded system) or very unlikely to be off the mark (in a granular system).

    I agree on that, definitely. I mean, for the most part in practice I've done elaborate ass-pulls when gauging quests. Those quest situations tend to always sneak up, and I've yet to actually play a campaign in which an ancillary XP source was outright more important than treasure XP, so I don't usually have super-elaborate objective guidelines on hand.

    (The closest I've come is with exploration XP rules; those have been in force in e.g. our most recent 50 session arc. 10 points per crossed hex, 10 more for exploring a hex, 100 for discovering a landmark and more for "discoveries". It hasn't had as much impact as treasure has in practice, but it's just about as objective. I wouldn't hesitate playing a campaign in which treasure XP doesn't exist and exploration XP is the primary source. Just make sure your hexcrawl works like a well-oiled machine, because it's all gonna rest on that rather than the minutiae of dungeon skirmish combat.)

    What my lengthy rambling on the issue tried to say wasn't that different from what you said, even. I'm totally on board with evaluating the importance of a quest (and therefore its XP reward, if we're doing that) based on stuff like whether there's a real dragon in it, or whether it's a distinct major module. Those are just as good reasons as "princesses are a big deal in this setting". It depends on what one's doing, what one considers a "big deal" that should gain the big points.

    I mean, consider diamonds. Even the most orthodox GM, limited to nothing but treasure XP, will have to admit that they are facing an arbitrary choice when pricing a diamond. Even if you're doing real economics (and therefore the diamond's price depends on the state of the market), the actual quality of the diamond is practically speaking going to be up to you: big or small, occluded or transparent, flaws or flawless, uncut or cut in whatever manner... either you decide on all those for your real economics calculation, or you decide on some abstraction, or you straight out determine the value; any way you choose, you're going to have to pick the number.

    And my point is: the only way for that number to be consistent without being based on the challenge rating (which I consider unhygienic) is by being consistent in the setting. This is what diamonds are worth monetarily or XP-wise in this campaign, and it's not going to fluctuate depending on where you find the diamond. Sure, you might find larger diamonds in different places than small ones, but two diamonds that are othewise the same should have the same value.

    In practice we're carried a lot in this gauging issue by using ready-made adventure modules. It's a very hygienic thing for the GM to hide behind when e.g. James Raggi says in his dwarf adventure that this diamond is worth 10 000 coin/XP; all that's left for the GM is to justify this in the setting, and that's not difficult - it's a big diamond, or if diamonds are worthless in your setting, perhaps it's a big whateverelse instead. (Or you just decide that hey, tough luck - diamonds are worth nothing in my setting, no XP for procuring this one. It's OK for adventures to have worthless stuff in them, too.)
  • Really enjoying this discussion :)

    I proposed changes to our XP system on Saturday, and the XP-cap rule was met with some scepticism. I might summarise their arguments with: "If the point of sandbox, challenge-based play is that the whole world is up for grabs, if only we, through skilful application of our characters, can get hold of it, then isn't is counter to this philosophy to put a limit on XP gained: That's bringing artificial notions of 'balance' and 'appropriateness' of encounter and reward back into the game. We have unlimited risk (characters can die, our towns and strongholds wiped out) so why not unlimited rewards?".

    I didn't really have a true answer to this. I made some tangential arguments along the lines that skipping over many levels would miss out on much of the fun - but they rightly pointed out that a) this was bringing a different, aesthetic judgment into things, when we'd already established the fun we were looking for came from letting the chips fall where they may and b) if they really did miss out on low levels they could always play their high level titans for a bit and then return to low level adventuring.

    I also said that I'd find it hard as a GM to remain neutral if I knew that placing a particular treasure in a dungeon would change the game that much, and this would lead me to making unhygienic decisions. They saw the point of this, but still weren't very convinced.

    In general, they're willing to trust me a bit and see where this leads. Still, I'd like to have a better explanation. I feel like the XP cap makes sense; help me understand more of the theory of why it's a good fit for sandbox play?
  • Rewards in the fiction, such as money, are indeed unlimited. As I regularly argue, experience points are not a reward, they're a pacing device. It's only logical to call XP a reward if you think that low-level play is a punishment, and why would you punish yourself?

    The game has a modeling principle, if you will: "A character of level N has been successful on N adventurous expeditions." The experience points are there just to ensure that each expedition is sufficiently large for the character's level, and to facilitate "making up" a single truly successful expedition with several partial successes. The single thing that XP are not for is skipping levels altogether.

    One problem with unlimited scoring is that it encourages suicidal play: sandbox settings generally do not feature security ideas predicated on defending against unnaturally acting player characters, and that's the one super power that PCs have from level one - no real person is as stupid and careless about their own life. This means that it may be the optimal play in terms of success in the game to play 1st level characters suicidally against epic-level adventures; if you die you just make up a new character, but if you succeed against the odds, well, you just jumped ten levels. All this works very well both emotionally and as a wargame if you're limited to one level at a time, because that encourages players to execute roughly level-appropriate challenges (whatever they think that might mean); you can still take great risks if you want, but you only get great rewards instead of insane ones.

    I'll give a practical recipe, here's what I would personally do in a sandbox without a level cap and XP-for-treasure if I was being a jerk:
    1) Find a million-XP hoard. Could be a dragon, could be a king, could be a bank, whatever. The setting likely has some. Maybe it's not treasure but rather princesses or something. Needs to be nominally accessible at 1st level. The bigger the better, we're way past doing any risk analysis here.
    2) Throw my character in there. If it's a traditional dungeon, except high level, then do it in scouting mode: no engaging any enemies at all, and if this character dies, then I make a new one and throw him there as well, accumulating information about the interior layout of the challenge with the multiple characters.
    3) Get multiple characters into the fun - after all, we've got several players who presumably each get one character at once to do whatever they want with. Can we crack the defenses by having one crazy bombman attack the east wing while another sneaks into the west wing? Can one of us run past the dragon while the other occupies it for the single combat round it takes for it to roast me? Do we have enough warm bodies to get at least one of us to the score?
    4) How dispersed is the treasure in this location? If it's a "city of gold" type of deal, maybe we don't need to get all the way to the main hoard to get the relatively huge payoff we're looking for. We don't need a million coin, one hundred thousand would be just fine. Remember: the more insanely over-level the adventure, the more likely (considering how adventures generally are written) we are to find something good as a side-note in a closet somewhere.

    For the record, a common-yet-trivial high-level heist in sandbox settings is to march into the largest city you can find, get in touch with the local assassin's guild (would be a shame if you didn't have one, wouldn't you agree?) and hire your party up as very exclusive, very expensive assassins. After all, it's a pretty sweet super power to basically be Hassan-i-Sabbah, with access to a team of absolutely loyal suicide killers who are cheap to replace. How realistic is your sandbox? Is it so realistic that it's actually hella difficult for even competent bodyguards to keep somebody alive against killers who will happily throw their own lives away to get at the target? Does the head planner of the hit, Hassan, get a slice of the XP when the 1st level chumps who do the actual deed die on the bodyguards? He gets the money, after all. Or does the XP reward go to the single assassin who survived the hit by accident? How much is it? Is the city large and romantic enough to have epic 100 000 rupee hired kills, or will you have to settle on 10 000 rupees for offing a guild headmaster? That's still entirely satisfactory when you can do repeat business.

    I'll note that I personally play at a much higher level than that in terms of sportsmanship when I'm a player in sandbox D&D. However, the above kind of thinking is in no way rare among the player base in my experience: many need the GM to set mature limits on obvious abuses, and it's not a given that a player actually understands the creative premise at all; it may be obvious to us that the game loses much of its interest if you treat your character as a simple pawn instead of trying to win "the way they would really do it", but the player may just think that their task is to "win", and you "win" by getting the score, and that's all there is to it.

    Even saying that you'll curb this type of thinking as a GM is really not much of an answer if this is what the system strongly encourages, because you can't really root out the mode of thought even if you can close off the most glaring exploits. So OK, maybe your setting doesn't have any dragon hoards, and working as an assassin simply doesn't pay out XP. Congratulations, you've prevented the players from doing the absolutely simplest things they can to elevate the risk/reward ratio, so now they're only limited to stupid suicidal tactics on a slightly smaller scale. They're still keeping their eyes open for the maximum risk you will allow. It would be better if the players could let it go and instead try to play each individual character optimally, rather than trying for that single payday that solves the whole campaign in one swoop. And that's much easier if the option of gaining multiple levels at once is taken away altogether.

    A practical example of what D&D adventures are like is appropriate here, by the way: one of the most celebrated adventures in the OSR, The Tower of the Stargazer, a 1st level adventure, has a gem worth 10 000 rupees in the third room of the adventure location. There is one lethal trap and two inconvenient ones between the entrance and this gem, nothing that a starter party can't handle. I have personally GMed that adventure to a party that managed to walk right in and get the rest of the party killed in that room while one character escaped with the gem. This is no theoretical armchair analysis, this is real life: how many levels does the Halfling get when they score the gem? The campaign has been going for an hour at this point, and 10 000 xp is enough to take a halfling to what, 4th level? 5th? What I did was obviously to congratulate the player for success, award them their 2nd level (as per the rules, I'll emphasize: this is not some whim of mine, this is how sandbox campaigns generally run) and leave it at that.

    To reiterate why I started talking about suicidal tactics: that sort of thing is actually not a problem with a level cap. I still don't like players treating their characters cheaply, but sometimes there's good fictional inspiration for it (the character really is e.g. so depressed or desperate), and with a level cap there's not enough of a payoff available to justify playing that way all the time. Sure, you can take an insane risk, and hey, it paid off and now you're at 2nd level. Still feel like taking a second insane risk with your 2nd level character, now that they've leveled up? In practice the suicidal tactics are mostly limited to situational plays to protect high-level characters with low-level bodies, rather than the entire party getting on a Hassan-i-Sabbah kick or something like that.
  • That's definitely an interesting philosophical conundrum, isn't it? I think that MartinEden's players are right that it's somewhat of a "kludge" and/or even possibly "unhygienic" to arbitrarily limit character XP gain.

    However, it does seem like a good idea to accept such a "kludge" for playability, for all the reasons Eero outlines - the game is designed to pace you through a progression of levels, among other things, and just because some aspect of the gameplay might allow us to "skip" some of that progression doesn't mean that we *should*. Not for any particular diegetic logic, but because that's the shape we want the game to take. (Having characters wildly out of whack with one another is one reason why wouldn't want this, for instance.)

    I think one thing which would help is to have some meaningful consequences to gaining so much wealth - I really like the idea of a low-level character suddenly being catapulted into a the fictional position that only a higher-level character would normally occupy. How will they deal with their circumstances? Can they hold onto them? Will they be respected in their new position, or seen as an impostor?

    I think that, in a D&D game, outlets for excessive wealth quite naturally start to pop up (or get invented) as the game matures and the character level up; in this case, though, it should be good to consciously introduce such opportunities much earlier, so the 'excess' wealth is still meaningful to the players and makes a real difference to gameplay.

    One of my (untested) ideas for long-term D&D play is to embrace the idea of "retiring" a character while they're still alive. In that frame, each character should have some kind of Dream - a long-term vision of where they hope to end up. Wealth can be "invested" in that potential Dream, giving you a chance to achieve it in the long run. When you choose to retire, the amount of wealth invested affects your odds of successfully finding that dream, in a pure form, just as you wanted. Under that metric, excess wealth could still be very meaningful - for instance, I could see an unusual scenario like a 2nd-level character lucking into incredible wealth choosing to 'retire' early, having effectively "won" the game as far as their story is concerned, despite not being a famous hero with the attendant powers and experiences.

    Eero,

    I wonder how all this (XP gain limits) intersects with your earlier statements about estimating the XP value of important achievements. Weren't you saying that you could estimate to "payout" of a major Quest by vaguely gauging "how important" or famous it should make a character to complete that quest? That seems at least somewhat at odds with the idea of an XP cap - not that they're completely incompatible, of course, but just slightly dissonant. For instance, in the case of the hypothetical "rescue the princess" quest which is estimated to render the successful heroes 5th level, it effectively rewards a 4th level party attempting the feat more than a 2nd level party doing the same. That's surely at least a little wonky, in a way.
  • I also hope to get back to our "how to set XP values for non-monetary things" discussion. I very much like the idea of objective awards for things like exploration (the hexes explored rules are very good in that regard, I think).

    I agree that it's very important to find such "objective" measures of XP awards based in the attempted "reality" of the sandbox campaign.

    However, either it's a bit of an elaborate sort of mental discipline/trick, or I'm misunderstanding something. I agree with the desire or need for objective measures of XP value - much like how gold/silver piece value can act as a measurable metric for treasure.

    That said, it seems a little misguided to me to say (or pretend) that it's entirely objective and that XP values have nothing to do with the expected challenge. For instance, the very reason we get some use out of the "GP = XP" rule is *because* we have, in the first place, the conceit of a world where treasure can be found under challenging circumstances. If we imagine a D&D world where all the dungeons have been plundered, we would need a different rule, for instance.

    After all, the game is about overcoming challenges. It seems to me that we recognize some things as worthy of XP very much because we create the premise that challenges are to be had in trying to acquire them. Is this not fundamental to the game itself?

    Now, where - as I see it, and I'm just pondering this now (this is not a well-formed opinion on my part, I'm exploring it as I go along) - this finds a certain limitation is that we have to *stop* gauging challenge level at some point before we play. We cannot constantly have the XP reward fluctuate as we consider the amount of challenge involved.

    In other words, if we constantly consider the XP value of accomplishments to vary based on the difficulties encountered along the way, then we reduce the game to being purely about tactics instead of being about strategy.

    No, we *need* for the players to be able to look for, find, or create opportunities to increase the potential payout while reducing the challenge level involved. This gives the players something to work with, something to consider carefully and play around.

    At some point, drawing a line in the sand and saying that "this is the metric for XP gain per unit of ________" allows the GM to take their hands off the "reward meter" and for the players to start gauging the relative difficulty or challenge of various potential scores in front of them.

    In other words, nailing down XP value is necessary in order to enable strategy to exist in the game.

    Eero, I'm curious if my ponderings here align with your theoretical understanding of this whole affair - after all, you've both given it more thought and have more experience with this style of play.

    1. First, we recognize that XP reward is associated with expected challenge. We don't make easy and boring things worth XP in our game, nor would we want to play in a game where a certain tactic made XP gain certain or easy - it's simply not interesting.

    2. However, in the second place we need to settle on various metrics for those things which we have deemed both interesting and potentially challenging so that we can now agree on expected payouts and the players can maneuver strategically for the desired ratio of risk to reward.

    It sounds like you're focusing on the second half of the equation here, while I see it as a sort of "mental discipline" we commit to only once all the other pieces are on the board.

    I think this is precisely relevant to the question of "how much XP is a magic item worth", because we have to consider where it falls along this spectrum. Do we have an objective way of measuring our interest in such items? Do they occur in interesting and challenging scenarios, or are we playing, for example, a campaign where every important person is carrying around a magical item and they often appear as a result of random "what's in this forest?" rolls?

    I'm very interested in your take on this.

    For a practical application, if you say in your game that princesses are worth 10,000 XP (to continue this somewhat ludicrous example), what do you do if the game takes on a form where princesses are abundant and not interesting to rescue? (It's harder to imagine a hypothetical for this than for some other forms of XP gain, but let's say the players agree to a pre-written module which takes them to a distant, exotic city, and it turns out that every major public figure in the city has a harem of concubines, of which many are princesses kidnapped from distant lands.)

    How do you deal with that situation? When (if ever) do you say, "Ok, this source of XP is no longer interesting/challenging. Let's decide on some new rules, yeah?"

  • Paul_T said:

    That's definitely an interesting philosophical conundrum, isn't it? I think that MartinEden's players are right that it's somewhat of a "kludge" and/or even possibly "unhygienic" to arbitrarily limit character XP gain.

    Well, unhygienic is the one thing it is not - can't get much more objective and fair in rules terms than saying that you can e.g. at most double your score on a single adventure.
    Paul_T said:

    I wonder how all this (XP gain limits) intersects with your earlier statements about estimating the XP value of important achievements. Weren't you saying that you could estimate to "payout" of a major Quest by vaguely gauging "how important" or famous it should make a character to complete that quest? That seems at least somewhat at odds with the idea of an XP cap - not that they're completely incompatible, of course, but just slightly dissonant. For instance, in the case of the hypothetical "rescue the princess" quest which is estimated to render the successful heroes 5th level, it effectively rewards a 4th level party attempting the feat more than a 2nd level party doing the same. That's surely at least a little wonky, in a way.

    I don't see the wonkiness, but that's probably because I've internalized the ideas involved here long ago. The way I see it, characters who continuously live the lives of 5th level characters end up at 5th level. To me the scoring cap is just a regulator feature that helps clean out the outlier blips from the stochastics of character performance. If you're really worth the 5th level, then you should be capable of performing at that level more than once. If it was just luck, then how is it unfair towards you to give you one level bump and ask you to show us again?
  • edited January 2018
    I think I understand Eero's theses a bit better now but I’m definitely still grappling with stuff. So let me try to "say it for myself" (as far as that goes) and ask some questions:

    1. Sandbox challenges should always flow from the fiction.

    "Kill one hundred 1-HD-creatures in three sessions!" does not qualify because Hit Dice and game sessions are game constructs/real-world constraints.

    "Kill one hundred blue goblins before the winter solstice when they multiply again!" is perfectly legitimate.

    2. Sandbox challenges should always be objectively measurable outside the fiction (though they will typically be measurable within the fiction, too). This allows us to objectively assess and “score” success/failure.

    "Map the lands north of the Blood River." is a legitimate challenge because we can gauge it objectively (e.g. at 100 XP per hex mapped etc.). In-fiction, the party may or may not have a patron willing to pay for a map, probably based on number of square miles mapped etc.

    “Protect mankind against the encroaching dark.” is probably too mushy (i.e. I can’t come up with a way to gauge this except in a very broad and thus useless sense).

    3. In-fiction rewards and game rewards (usually XP) are separate things.

    "Slay the ogre in the old forest" is a legitimate challenge. If the characters cut off an outlaw's head, use their wand of enlargement and some make-up to dress it up as an ogre’s head and then successfully convince the mayor that they have slain the ogre, the characters get all the in-fiction rewards (e.g. the 1,000 gp bounty on the ogre, the gratitude of the villagers etc.) – at least until the ogre strikes again -, but the characters get none of the game-rewards (i.e. there are no XP for either the bounty or the scam).

    4. The challenge-level (or expected difficulty) is independent of the game rewards.

    This issue is complicated by two factors:

    (a) The in-fiction reward (e.g. a bounty) will typically correlate with the in-fiction challenge-level (e.g. the bounty on a monster which is taking out whole caravans rather than lone travellers will be higher so as to attract veteran mercenaries who are up to the task).

    However, it may not correlate at all. Consider the following situation:

    The party hunts down a pesky gnome illusionist who has conned them out of a valuable magic item in the last adventure before vanishing. They make the effort to locate him via magic and find out that he is currently extorting a wealthy settlement with an illusionary band of trolls. The settlers have promised a reward of 5,000 gp to anyone who rids them of their troll problem. This reward is way out of whack with a (low-level) gnome illusionist.

    The in-fiction reward is obviously available to the characters (unless they share their information with the settlers, perhaps). Hunting down the gnome is not trivial (he’s an illusionist, quite clever and maybe has some henchmen) but the challenge level is way below that of a band of trolls. Still, the challenge might occupy a few sessions. How do we handle this?


    (b) The challenge level is often closely correlated with the game rewards, typically via treasure and monster level.

    Consider the following situation:

    The (high-level) characters decide to rid the Elphand Lands of dragons.

    (This is a cause of Order/Law in my version of the Wilderlands: Capital-M Magic is a sentient entity which thrives on man’s dreams and desires but is hostile to civilization, preferring man to live huddled in dark forests, filled with fear and wonder. Dragons are its chief agents to periodically tear down what man has built. Young dragons might threaten a village and are very active whereas great wyrms sleep for millenia -- but take down entire civilisations when they wake.)

    Unless we decide that the dragons’ hoards and hides (and teeth and bones etc.) are enough of a reward, the following XP scheme looks attractive:

    Egg – 500 XP
    Wyrmling – 1000 XP
    Very Young Dragon – 2000 XP

    Great Wyrm – 1,000,000 XP

    This would be objective both in-fiction (because all these dragons have a specific, non-overlapping age range, snout-to-tail length et.) and at the game level (except for the egg, the dragons have a specific number of HD and so on).

    Question: Can we base our XP rewards on monster stats? And if we do, is that not the same as basing XP on (admittely only one, though key aspect of) challenge for all practical purposes?
  • edited January 2018
    Addendum: The impact of dragons on civilisation is more-or-less quantifiable here so we can base XP rewards on that, but when a monster's level correlates closely with challenge level and in-fiction impact, why not default to, say, monster level as a basis for XP?
  • Good takes, Johann. Also, I like your campaign fluff; we like to work with similar sweeping themes.
    Johann said:

    “Protect mankind against the encroaching dark.” is probably too mushy (i.e. I can’t come up with a way to gauge this except in a very broad and thus useless sense).

    That might be because it's more of a reward scheme principle than a quest in itself. Sort of like how "all valuable things contribute to your financial well-being and are therefore worthy treasure, worth XP" is in itself horribly vague, yet in practice it translates into "1 XP per coin, XP for jewelry as per its value on coin" and so on. So you might be describing a reward scheme's guiding principle there rather than a single quest.

    That particular scheme could be entirely playable once you affix a few principles, something like this:
    * You get 1 XP per person you protect from the dark, two if you saved them from immediately lethal danger.
    * You get 100 XP per HD for slain creatures of the dark.
    * You get XP for foiling the designs of the dark as per a particular table.

    I think that would work just fine for a paladin sort of character or party in a suitably fantastic setting. The GM obviously has to make objective determinations of what and who are "of the dark", but I don't think that this has ever been a problem for D&D.
    Johann said:

    3. In-fiction rewards and game rewards (usually XP) are separate things.

    "Slay the ogre in the old forest" is a legitimate challenge. If the characters cut off an outlaw's head, use their wand of enlargement and some make-up to dress it up as an ogre’s head and then successfully convince the mayor that they have slain the ogre, the characters get all the in-fiction rewards (e.g. the 1,000 gp bounty on the ogre, the gratitude of the villagers etc.) – at least until the ogre strikes again -, but the characters get none of the game-rewards (i.e. there are no XP for either the bounty or the scam).

    That's a very interesting example. I was initially thinking that I'd give the XP for the reward money, but that's not what the example is about: the quest is not "get rich by getting the money", the quest is "slay the ogre". That's actually very cut and dried, and it's just as you say: you only get the XP for your personal commitment to slay the ogre if you actually do it.

    There's a bunch of variations that are possible on this, and the way we play it it's genuinely dependent on the cultural assumptions and heroic archetypes that are in play in the campaign setting and with the characters. A greedy mercenary type character is motivated by money, so it wouldn't even occur to me to raise the idea that they might define success in any way except "how do I get my hands on the money". A paladin sort will not get as much XP for the money, or possibly any at all, and they might even refuse the reward, insisting on the good work being its own reward. Finally, a fame-starved character might define a slightly different goal: they want the credit for killing the beast. I don't see any of these as particularly unplayable or undesirable, I'll GM for any of them - sometimes at the same time, when parties have characters who work at cross-purposes.
    Johann said:

    The in-fiction reward is obviously available to the characters (unless they share their information with the settlers, perhaps). Hunting down the gnome is not trivial (he’s an illusionist, quite clever and maybe has some henchmen) but the challenge level is way below that of a band of trolls. Still, the challenge might occupy a few sessions. How do we handle this?

    As long as the party is operating on mercenary motivations, I would give them XP as per the money they get for the job. This is how I always work with the XP-for-treasure paradigm: you don't have to actually face danger, you just have to face what the GM and the emergent game process gives you. Sometimes what it gives you is a treasure map, some lucky encounter rolls, and a free treasure you just have to walk in and grab. I don't discount the XP reward just because it was much easier than we expected.

    One might look at it this way: the real "enemy" for a mercenary party is not the monsters, it's the society that's keeping them from being the rich elite assholes they desire to be. The society defines what a gold piece is worth, and the society has given birth to its discontented adventurers who are so greedy that they not only keep score of how many gold pieces they amass, but amazingly grow extra muscles every few thousand coins [grin].

    Point being, what if you win those coins without the sweat equity? Insofar as the big picture goes, we're here to see whether you can make it to the top of the heap, not whether you can do it by being stupid and working hard.

    I'll say that in my sandboxes this works the other way around as well: sometimes you work stupid hard and still get nothing for your trouble. Life is not fair, the game is not fair, and XP-for-treasure is definitely not fair.

    Of course, a party of paladins who weren't doing the troll gig for the money would presumably not get their full XP for defeating a gnome illusionist. It depends on how precisely you see the challenge theme, but the paladins will probably see it as something of a waste of time for their talents - they could be helping somebody with real trouble instead. Probably their reward would scale down to the gnome's threat level, whatever that may be (definitely more than their immediate combat threat, I'd say, if they're putting the fear of troll into a whole village).
  • Johann said:

    Unless we decide that the dragons’ hoards and hides (and teeth and bones etc.) are enough of a reward, the following XP scheme looks attractive:

    Egg – 500 XP
    Wyrmling – 1000 XP
    Very Young Dragon – 2000 XP

    Great Wyrm – 1,000,000 XP

    This would be objective both in-fiction (because all these dragons have a specific, non-overlapping age range, snout-to-tail length et.) and at the game level (except for the egg, the dragons have a specific number of HD and so on).

    Question: Can we base our XP rewards on monster stats? And if we do, is that not the same as basing XP on (admittely only one, though key aspect of) challenge for all practical purposes?

    I think that this is legit, which will again make you all think that I can't make up my mind. I'll try to explain why I think this is fine: you've provided a clear thematic background for why dragons need to die. The in-fiction goal really is killing dragons. You're not just deciding how much money (and therefore XP) there is in the hoard on the basis of how difficult the dragon is to kill, which would be basing the reward on the direct combat difficulty of the adventure (which I don't like). Rather, you're saying that the overarching goal in this campaign is eradicating the dragon-kind. Bigger dragons gain bigger points because they're a more important part of the dragon murder engine that the adventurers are tasked to dismantle, not because they're more difficult to kill per se.

    It's just like how you get more XP for robbing the king than the mayor, and that's because the king has more money to steal, not because he has more guards. He does have more guards, but that's because he has more money to lose, not because you're carefully balancing to make sure there's one guard for every thousand rupees.

    This scheme means, incidentally, that you get those XP rewards even when the dragons are easy to kill for some reason. It's really not just "you need to win a 5th level combat encounter to gain 400 XP" 3rd edition encounter balancing logic. Think up a way to kill or maim or convert or otherwise neutralize the dragons without fighting, and you're still getting the rewards, because we've clearly grounded the thematic ideology here: it's not the fighting that nets you XP, it's the dragon extinction agenda.
    Johann said:

    Addendum: The impact of dragons on civilisation is more-or-less quantifiable here so we can base XP rewards on that, but when a monster's level correlates closely with challenge level and in-fiction impact, why not default to, say, monster level as a basis for XP?

    I would go with dragon level myself for this, yeah. It's a pre-existing, clear way that the mechanics represent dragon size and dragon importance. No reason not to use that. It looks almost exactly like you were giving out XP for just "fighting", but I personally think that it's still achievement-based. That achievement just happens to look more like a safari ("I'm here for your hide!") than a robbery ("I'm here for your gold!").

    If it wasn't so obvious that the dragon HD and their strategic and thematic setting importance were linked, then I would not use the dragon size, though. For example, imagine that the goal was not extinction of dragons, but rather that of the noble class. You would have all sorts of nobles to kill: children, adults, non-classed, classed heroes, rulers and mere courtiers. I would score them on the basis of their overall importance to the social cohesion of their community: you would get the big points for killing the kings and intellectuals, the ones who maintain the sense of community among the nobility. The true success is destroying their ability to continue existing. This could mean that you'd get a lot more XP for killing some 0th level king than for killing his 10th level champion.

    But for dragons, yeah - I think we both agree that their importance has to be by default mythically linked to their size and mightiness. You could still have some occasional strategic goals that are scored on some other basis than dragon size (say some dragon owns "dragon tablets" that allow them to cast spells to cause dragons to mature quicker - those would be XP-worthy to procure or destroy, even if their owner was just a weak dragon), but for the most part the bigger the dragon, the more important the achievement of slaying them.
  • I think I finally get it. More "Say it for myself..."

    We should determine XP awards independently of difficulty and instead based on in-fiction impact. These often dovetail with one another, but are separate things.

    By doing so, we ensure, among other things, that the characters occasionally catch a break, have bad luck, and - perhaps most importantly - can identify and seize (or overlook) opportunities where they arise (and within the parameters of what kind of game we want to have, i.e. usually one about daring adventures rather than mugging old people).

    Basically, just like random treasure.

    The example of eradicating the noble class works well for me (and finally let me understand - or so I hope - the princess example and the little table with low/mid/high level adventures and their impact in various areas).

    One question I was trying to pose with my gnome illusionist example was: Do the characters get XP if the players (and the DM) know ahead of time that it is going to be a cakewalk and might be boring?

    But I think I can answer that now: If the players want to play it out - and given that it's a bit of a vengeance mission, I think most would - full XP should be awarded as per the in-fiction situation (i.e. for the reward for the 'band of trolls'). If the group decides that this would be a boring endeavour and don't want to waste precious game time on it, the affair can be abstracted (roll a d6: 1-5 you take him down, 6 he escapes) -- which means that there will be no XP. Just like the crusade example upthread.
  • edited January 2018
    Yes, yes! You say it much more compactly. Particularly your points about reward distribution, and this:
    Johann said:

    can identify and seize (or overlook) opportunities where they arise (and within the parameters of what kind of game we want to have, i.e. usually one about daring adventures rather than mugging old people).

    I feel that this is basically the Grand Purpose of D&D: on the tactical level you might be trying to figure out how to win in a given scenario, but the wider question is indeed rather wide: given this world, which is often an implicitly complex simulation of medieval Earth, how do you actually crack that thing wide open? Speaking as an armchair general, a Vulcan with no heart or ulterior motivations, how do you "win at life"? That's the wind under the wings of the wargamer (or, to use the Forgite terminology, his "creative agenda").

    For us to be actually able to offer this opportunity in sandbox D&D, it's essential that the answer is not "you can't win, because the GM is there to ensure that every opportunity ever is counter-balanced by an equivalent risk". The answer needs to be "you gotta analyze this complex system, make your best guesses on the imponderables and game it out to see if it works. The system you're analyzing is not a sterile WotC rules system, either - rather, it's a complex fictional world that very probably has angles of approach that nobody before you has discovered."

    And of course all the answers to the Grand Purpose are contextual and temporary. That's the spirit of the game: you figure out something and you set it aside, to learn even more. So what if you've found that as long as your character is a Huguenot in 14th century northern France, you can totally win the game in 102 moves with good reliability? Good for you, let's set that aside and explore some more with some other precepts.
    Johann said:

    One question I was trying to pose with my gnome illusionist example was: Do the characters get XP if the players (and the DM) know ahead of time that it is going to be a cakewalk and might be boring?

    But I think I can answer that now: If the players want to play it out - and given that it's a bit of a vengeance mission, I think most would - full XP should be awarded as per the in-fiction situation (i.e. for the reward for the 'band of trolls'). If the group decides that this would be a boring endeavour and don't want to waste precious game time on it, the affair can be abstracted (roll a d6: 1-5 you take him down, 6 he escapes) -- which means that there will be no XP. Just like the crusade example upthread.

    Yes, I agree with that entirely. If something is good enough to play, it is good enough to get XP for, and vice versa. Note that I consider everybody to have a subjective veto on what they play, which means that you need the GM to accede to your "boring and foolproof way to gain points". He's acting as an equal member of the gaming group on this, so if he thinks that it's too boring to play something, I don't think he's under any strong compulsion to play it. You the player are not at the game table solely to be the receiver of goods: you also need to entertain the GM with your gamesmanship, and that does not mean matching your autistic patience for boring repetition against his well-adjusted wish to actually have an intellectual component in play.

    (This does not mean that I require all XP-worthy acts to be played out in minute detail. There's a difference between "let's treat this as background color" and "let's increase the abstraction on this so we can make it gameable". I don't require mass combat to be resolved with the skirmish combat rules, for instance, if the minute activities within combat aren't of supreme importance to the actual goals of the adventure.)
  • That aligns pretty nicely with what I was trying to hash out earlier, above, in terms of the gameplay in this style being all about the intersection of challenge and strategy.

    I certainly don't want to call things to a close by saying this - it's not even my thread, after all! - so I hope no one takes it that way, but I want to say:

    This has been a really fantastic thread/discussion. Lots to think about! And it makes me want to get back to some old-school D&D (in some form, anyway), which is never a bad thing.
  • edited January 2018
    I'll second Paul: I got a lot out of this thread, too -- such as Paul's musings on how strategy becomes possible only when we nail down XP rewards. A group activity, as Eero has oft pointed out ("player-negotiated challenges", if I remember correctly).

    (My phrasing of what Eero calls the Grand Purpose of D&D is almost identical to Paul's assessment that "we *need* for the players to be able to look for, find, or create opportunities".)

    In any case, during my ongoing journey to discover and enjoy OSR play, I continue to be amazed by two things:

    1. The wisdom of Gygax and the grognards. They got a lot of things right which I either scoffed at (e.g. random encounters) or which went right over my head (e.g. caps on gaining XP) when I first encountered them.

    2. The depth of analysis of what makes RPGs tick, as made possible by the internet. For all their wisdom, Gygax et al. were sometimes talking out of their asses ("A DM only rolls the dice because of the noise they make" is poor advice, even for illusionists) -- and exchanging ideas on the web, reading about actual play, designing and playing new games etc. allows us to tell wisdom apart from claptrap (and hopefully build on the former rather than enshrine both).
  • Johann,

    I agree with that, very much so.

    (I should note that if my conceptual outlook on this style of play matches Eero's, it's usually because most of my ideas on it come from Eero's various posts on the topic! His ideas really helped me understand what it's all about, and so any correspondence in thinking between us is no accident.)
  • I'm also happy with the thread. Good talk, will reference later. I haven't quite managed to verbalize my deep position on the XP thing this well before. This will make crafting new XP schemes easier in the future.

    I wonder what happened with Martin's Sky Shard, though. Did the party find it, and level up by selling it? Or did the ostensible buyer decide that the adventurers look weak enough to pay with death instead? Off-loading specialty items like that can be really difficult, particularly if proving the item's potence is difficult, dangerous and heretical or otherwise illegal.
  • So far it hasn't been the anticipated problem, as the black-booted enforcers who were also exploring the dungeon got their hands on it (with the player's help). The lead enforcer then turned into a werestag and ran off into wilderness with it. They finished clearing out the dungeon for more fungible treasure, and are now considering whether to roll up another ranger and go on a multi-day overland hunt.

    If they ever get their hands on it, I'll let you know, but the sandbox is popping up distractions left, right and centre, of course, so we'll see how long the players can maintain their focus! If they forget about it then, of course, the enforcer will become an immortal, demon-leading, lycanthrope to bedevil the future of the land. :)
  • People being so helpful on my most recent plea for help reminded me that I should really report back on some others.

    So thanks again for all the help and pleasant discussion above. By and large people seem to have accepted the XP cap rule. The group did get the sky shard... and then have failed to really do anything with it. Various circumstances conspired to convince them that it lacked efficacy, and the group seems to keep to coming to the conclusion that they should systematically experiment with it, and then not actually finding doing so a fun mode of play.

    On the other hand, they found an enormous ruby down a well full of carrion crawlers, that was easily worth tens of thousands of XP, and spent a happy half session, and a month of game time, fencing it around. There was a really interesting part, where the offers they were getting were lower than they had hoped, and so they kept holding on the market longer, in the hopes of higher bids, but meanwhile their finances dwindled almost to bankruptcy from living expenses and so. In the end they lucked out and the sinister undead presence of the imperial court in this backwater colony took an interest and blew all the other noble house's offers away.

    This then led to the PC who had fronted the sale receiving a nightmare telegram from the imperial court commanding him to delve deeper into the ground to find more of these strange mythic underworld rubies and bring them back... or else.

    Thanks again!
  • Thanks for the update!
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