[OSR, D&D, etc] Bad Experiences

A while back, we had a discussion about XP = gold in OSR-style gaming.

At some point Vincent Baker popped in and said that it would be interesting if there were two ways of getting experience, or two kinds of experience:

* Good experience, and
* Bad experience.

Good experience is defeating monsters, finding treasure, throwing a party - all good D&D stuff we already know.

Bad experience is for when "bad things" happen to you. Experience near death? Suffer a curse? Lose a leg? Etc.

Now, Vincent eventually designed a game using this ("Freebooting Venus"), but those Experiences are fairly cosmetic - you mark them on your sheet, but they don't really DO anything. (Which is probably the right choice for that game!)

I've been thinking about doing this in OSR-style play (whether old-school D&D or something similarly in purpose and design). The more I think about it, the more I like it.

Eventually, the question of whether these two types of experience feed into different reward mechanism or not could be addressed, but first I'd like your thoughts on how to define "bad experiences":

What are some interesting "bad experiences"?

Is there any way to make rewarding them at least somewhat objective/consistent? (Important for this form of play, in my opinion, is a sense of impartiality, so guidelines should be clear.)

How would you go about this?

Are there any favourite "bad experiences" your character has had in an RPG that you'd like to see remembered and/or rewarded?


  • edited January 2018
    In Rolemaster, you get XP for damage and critical hits received. I think the idea has merit (and should probably be expanded cover more things as you suggest) but the RM approach, at least, is quite fiddly.
  • What are some interesting "bad experiences"?
    They may not qualify as "interesting" (definition may vary), but they are commonplace bad experiences within D&D:

    Triggering a trap.
    Suffering level drain.
    Losing 1/2 or more of your maximum HP in a single round.
    Using a cursed magic item.
    Rolling on a death and dismemberment table.
    Failing a debilitating saving throw.
    Being ambushed.
    Losing points from an ability score.
    A party member's death.
    An extremely powerful random encounter.
    Being exposed to a disease or poison.
    Failing a crucial "skill" check.
    Getting hit with specific special attacks (dragon breath, vampiric bite, etc.).
    Rolling a 1/2 or less on your HD upon leveling up.
    Losing retainers and hirelings, especially if you can't recover the treasure they were carrying.
    Is there any way to make rewarding them at least somewhat objective/consistent? (Important for this form of play, in my opinion, is a sense of impartiality, so guidelines should be clear.)
    Base it on the level/HD and lethality of the effect, and probably make it a percentage of XP to next level.
  • Yeah, if we're talking of relatively orthodox D&D, then you want to go with HP loss and such - objective events. Hits taken in combat, horrible sights seen, so on. It's actually quite easy to figure out what the horrible experiences are, and how horrible they are exactly.

    The real neat trick will be to do something cool with these "bad experiences". I've thought on this myself, and I have some ideas, but I've yet to put anything in practice. Seems like I have enough to entertain me so far in other facets of the game.
  • While I agree that the "real trick" will be the next step, I think exploring this "first step" is still important and fruitful.

    I love the suggestions so far! Great stuff.

    I think making the experiences worth some percentage of the XP required for the next level is a good idea, so it scales nicely as the game progresses.

    A nice, easy way to do this would be to make a list of these terrible experiences, and check them off as you go. For every four you check off (or something like that), you immediately level up, increasing your current XP to the minimum for the next level.

    The reason I find the idea exciting, even without something interesting to spend these XPs/advances on (which would, of course, be even more interesting) is this kind of thing:

    * It encourages players to engage with, and celebrate danger and "bad luck". That's a nice aligning of incentives - the idea in D&D that you can push your luck in exchange for further rewards seems pretty fundamental to the game, and I like the idea that getting into a dungeon that's over your head, losing a limb and two fellow characters, and escaping under a curse is rewarded in some way.

    It plays into the "gambling" aspect of D&D play - just how far can you go, risking your adventurer's life?

    * It's a nice way to celebrate and remember notable events and past adventures. It becomes a record of that

    * These can be reflected in scars, damage, and changes to experienced adventurers, which can be fun to explore in terms of Color. "My warrior is missing a finger on his left hand, an ear, walks with a limp, and, ever since he went into the Underworld, dogs bark at him wherever he goes" is kind of a cool thing to have "earned" from your adventuring.

  • Oh, I've actually run a game like this! For about a year I ran this post-apoc 5e game that was very OSR-ish, XP-for-gold, hirelings, morale, wandering monster checks, exploration turns, players mapping out dungeons, all that jazz. In addition to hauling gold and magic/technological artifacts out of dungeons, characters got XP for "harrowing experiences." Each harrowing experience could be earned once per character.

    Here's the sheet where we kept track of which character had which harrowing XP.

    The way we played it, harrowing XP and loot XP were identical, they didn't advance you in different ways. A harrowing experience was about 50% as much XP as the share a single character got from the party finding an Uncommon-rarity artifact or typical gold hoard in a shallow (1st-3rd level appropriate foes) dungeon layer.

    The game was fairly deadly, we went through about 13 characters with a pool of 6 players (one of whom joined halfway through the game), and new characters always started at level 1. Harrowing experiences helped people play catch-up: since new characters had the whole world of horrible shit yet to happen to them, they'd frequently rack up 5-6 in their first session and 3-4 more in their second.

    The way we constructed our XP table, a harrowing experience was 5% of the XP needed to reach level 1 from level 1, but just 0.28% of that needed to go from level 9 to 10 (the max in our game), so they became less impactful as the game went on.

    Here's the full list of what we used, not all of them are really bad per se.

    Spend Inspiration.
    Fall victim to a trap.
    Swindled or robbed.
    Bribe or placate enemies with gifts.
    Strike an equitable bargain with an enemy.
    Keep an oath or promise under duress.
    Break an oath or promise.
    Kidnapped or taken prisoner by enemies.
    Rescue prisoners or hostages.
    Forced to surrender.
    Arrested, named outlaw, or tried by authorities.
    Take prisoners.
    Execute prisoners.
    Turn enemies into allies.
    Separated from your allies and in a tight spot.
    Lost in the wilderness without your bearings.
    Lost in a dungeon without your bearings.
    Abandoned or attacked by your own hirelings, servitors, or liege-people.
    Lose a hireling to death in battle.
    Deprived of your weapons or usual resources in a tough spot.
    Broke, without credit, and unable to afford the supplies you need.
    Discover and explore a lost city.
    Discover and explore a crashed star-hulk.
    Discover and explore a forgotten crypt or tomb.
    Discover and befriend or make enemies of a tribe of inhuman sapients.
    Activate a mysterious and powerful artifact when you don’t know what will happen.
    Recover a rare artifact of thaumaturgic power or lost technology, then lose it again.
    Show mercy, when cruelty or callousness may be advantageous.
    Face an enemy whose Challenge is at least half your level in single combat.
    Defeat an enemy whose Challenge is 4 above your level, with the help of your allies.
    Defeat a mob of enemies, with at least 5 of them for each of you and your allies.
    Stunned, petrified, banished, walled off, or otherwise sidelined while your allies struggle.
    Fight or circumvent an alien monster from another planet.
    Fight or circumvent a demon from some hell.
    Fight or circumvent an undead monster.
    Fight or circumvent a monster of Gargantuan size.
    Fight or circumvent a monster who is immune to your most effective combat tactics.
    Be the last one standing as your allies drop about you.
    Swallowed alive.
    Charmed or dominated.
    Lose consciousness during battle.
    See the death of an ally.
    Return from beyond the veil of death.
    Left for dead.
    Flee for your life.
    Lie for your life.
    Narrowly avoid a fate worse than death.
    Infected with a disease.
    Nearly starve, suffocate, drown, or perish of thirst.
    Set your enemies against one another.
  • edited January 2018
    That's fantastic, Jeph! Thanks for sharing. And a great list, too.

    How did you assemble these? At first I thought that maybe you wrote them down as they came in play ("Hey! That sounds like a Harrowing Experience"), but I see on your list there are things that haven't ever happened to anyone.

    How did your formula for XP gain work?
  • This section of the campaign's google doc has the experience tables, including XP needed to level and XP gained from from various sources.

    I had the whole list decided before play began... I think I basically pulled most of it out of my butt. Some of it was stuff that I know players hate and should deserve a consolation prize (eg getting mind controlled or paralyzed in a fight), some of it was behavior a wanted to encourage, some if it was, like, right-of-passage stuff that would definitely happen eventually, and I wanted some little celebration of the fact that this character had finally encountered that iconic thing.

    We'd check off harrowing experiences at the end of the game, rather than as they happened in play. I'd read down the list real quickly, and when I'd call out, "Lose a hireling" people would be all, "Oh, Mace Window gets that one, Obi-Two and Oby-Gyn got eaten by a dire tiger!"
  • “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
  • I think Baker's Poison'd does something similar. 3 out of 4 basic stats are actually made from lists happened to / made by / wished by your character.

    I ran a OSR style, Sw/oM influenced WoDu game in a similar way. After every session:
    1. you had to define a 'bad' experience from which your character could learn something ('I didnt check the ceiling for traps')
    2. the group had to define a merit to your character from your successes (a 'good' experience). ('I saved our dying retainer').
    These could be used to get a +1 forward to your next similar roll and if you used 3 of them this way, then they formed a new, permanent trait for ongoing +1.
  • A thought occurs to me when I fondle the Bad Experience idea, Paul. This thought is that I'm already running a dual XP system in my home rules, except the second track is not Bad Experience, it's "Real Experience" - as in, Runequest style "learn it by doing it" experience. This works for my specific D&D homebrew because its rules are built to incorporate it. I get a lot of mileage out of the Real Experience concept because unlike ordinary achievement experience, it triggers every session: while characters might go 10 sessions without succeeding in a single adventure, they can still slowly improve in various things with the Real Experience mechanics. It gives even failure a little bit of dimension in characterizing characters.

    Just a thought relating to this. From my viewpoint Bad Experience should do something different from Real Experience, in which I'm already waist-deep, but perhaps for you the answer is different - maybe Bad Experience is your Real Experience, or part of it.
  • Good suggestions!

    Eero, is "real experience" related to your rules for "skills" being a percentage of your ability check?
  • Yeah, that's what I meant by it - I don't have explicit "real experience points" you'd collect in the same sense as you collect normal XP. That's merely a mechanical accidence, though; I could just as well construe the process of improving Abilities and Skills and the occasional Feat in terms of points. My "Advanced Tunnels & Trolls" project actually does something like that.

    Thinking further on the simile between these different experience types, the reason why I feel that Real Experience works so well for me is that I construe it as genuinely a separate kind of character change than the level-based things that the actual XP system represents. If they were conceptually overlapping (that is, the same fictional idea could be expressed arbitrarily through either), then I would probably find the whole flourish of dual XP tracks unnecessary.

    To be explicit, this is how Achievement XP and Real Experience (I'm trying to use clear terms for the sake of this discussion, I don't call them that in my homebrew) differ from each other in terms of their role in representing fictional ideas:

    Achievement XP models and represents the idea that some people are more important than others in a romantic, religious, fate-implying sense: the camera follows them around, important things occur to them. This is why character "levels" you gain from experience points increase your hit points (themselves an entirely abstract dramatic conceit) and allow you access to amazing, arbitrarily supernatural feats impossible to non-leveled characters. This is a gradual process: being a 1st level adventurer distinguishes you only barely from the nameless everyman, which often causes the misunderstanding that a leveled character doesn't actually benefit of unnatural potence; at 10th or 20th level this misconception has usually been dispelled, as it's clear that XP Levels represent nothing more or less than an outright invasion from a different kind of story universe, a wedge of fairy tale logic in a supposedly cohesive and realistic world.

    Real Experience models the notion that people can train and improve their skills and abilities, and their life experiences impact their capabilities. It is realistic rather than romantic, and it is not fair and balanced in any way. Some skills are useful, some less so; some skills are easy to learn, others less so. There is no guarantee that you can find the teachers and the lore for Real Experience to ever amount to anything useful, but it is nevertheless the fundament upon which everything your character ever does draws.

    As you can see, it's easy to conceive of why one might wish to mechanize these two character aspects as different from each other. Traditionally D&D has been awfully vague about them, which means that otherwise mechanically identical Fighting Men have been characterized as "grizzled veterans" or "hopeful farmboys" with equal justification. I feel that I gain a lot by making it clear that XP levels represent only the star power of wuxia badassery (or "epic fantasy adventure", if you prefer that term - same thing), while the fact that your character has been a soldier for 20 years is mechanized separately.

    (I'm not saying that it's a better design choice to separate "dramatic importance" from "real experience", by the way; I am aware that many D&D players actively like the fact that both are to a degree simulated the same way in orthodox D&D. My point is mainly that it's easy to see things the other way as well, which gives Real Experience a natural cachet as an idea.)

    What do you think, is there conceptual room in D&D for Bad Experience to do something similar - be a tool of world-building and simulation? Is there a meaningful difference between a traumatized veteran and a coddled, yet highly-trained elite? Is it a good or bad difference, in terms of character empowerment?

    Or, does Bad Experience overlap too much with regular achievement experience in terms of what it means for the setting? Should you settle on one kind of experience points, but simply award them for facing eldritch horrors, too?
  • A concrete idea about what to do with Bad Experience: what if all character were "dual-classed" in the sense that they would collect experience points in both their Class and their Alignment? Alignment would, obviously, gain levels from Bad Experience while Class levels from achievement as usual.

    Leveling Alignment could do various things, depending on what you were looking for. For example, some stray thoughts:
    * Maybe it's not strictly a good thing - there could be mixed penalties and bonuses involved as your world-view coheres towards something alien and twisted. Leveling alignment could be simultaneously mystical insight and progressive mental illness.
    * Ever wanted to have dramatic passion mechanics in D&D? Well, maybe your Alignment caps your passions mechanically speaking. More Bad Experience equals stronger Alignment equals really zany berserk rages. They're really gonna get it now when you get angry.
    * Maybe the classes need some work, maybe remove the magic-users and such and replace them with sages, whatever. Maybe anybody can learn magic, and the amount depends on leveling your Alignment, but what kind you get depends on what that Alignment is, plus maybe your class as well. So you've got sages doing magic, which is like wizards do, but then you have sword-saints and barbarian shamans and all that good shit we've come to expect of modern D&D. Everybody gets spells!
    * Obviously your Alignment starts pretty vague, you could even start "Unaligned", but at higher levels you get into prestige class business. That "Lawful" becomes "Lawful Good" at 3rd level, and "Christian" at 5th, and "Catholic" at 7th, and so on.
    * What if gaining too much Bad Experience all at once causes a crisis of confidence and breaks your Alignment? You gotta switch to another, or mend it. This could obviously relate to all sorts of sanity rules, whatever is in place; I like to treat psychological stress as simply hit point damage, just like we do with everything else injurious.
  • Eero,

    I think the concept, in general, has a lot of potential uses, and I like the various ideas you're throwing out here. Finding something useful to do with Alignment, in particular, is very appealing.

    However, for the purposes of this thread and my current thinking, it doesn't seem to me to be quite the right direction to go in.

    I think that if I wish to play a more dramatic/character-oriented kind of game, I wouldn't hesitate to play something other than D&D. I'm not sure (although I'd love to hear arguments to the contrary!) why I would want to reach for D&D for this kind of gaming instead of a more well-suited game. Passions, moral and religious alignments, crises of confidence, and mental illness... I don't really see why bolting such onto D&D is a better idea than designing from scratch (or playing a more appropriate game).

    What inspired me here was three-fold:

    1. The recent talk of how "important quests" might play into being a "famous adventurer" got me thinking that wild adventures and experience are often about scars, failures, and traumatic experiences.

    A wilderness guide who has spent a night at the fabled bottom of the Valley of Death and returned to tell the tale... or lost an eye when he was captured by the Cannibals of Quarth'reg - surely those are also dramatic signposts of fame and experience? Why shouldn't they play into a character's sense of history, accomplishment, and renown?

    "Harrowing experiences", in the form of scars and problems, could be a nice thing to keep track of when it comes to the lore of the campaign, too.

    "Rescued the princess! 1,000 XP" - a memorable event in the game - might not be all that different from, "You got captured by the brain-eaters of the Lower Depths, too? How did you get out alive?"

    2. The implications for player incentives are interesting here - not only do accomplishments and treasure provide goals in play, but the concept of struggle and adventure do, as well. Providing another form of reward for a more daredevil-like approach to play can be an interesting motivator and an interesting strategic concern: play your character "closer to the wire", and you risk death, but you may also experience benefits compared to your colleague, who always plays it safe.

    This appeals to me in terms of how it might affect play at the table, and, I think, would feel really good.

    3. My approach for "monster XP" lately has been to reward exploration and adventure, rather than defeat. Monsters still don't give much XP compared to treasure (the real payoff, unless killing a specific monster is a Quest, I suppose), but simply encountering one and living to tell the tale is worth something. You can go back to kill it later, if you want, but you won't be doing that for the XP.

    This made me realize that encountering a terrifying monster is really just a scary experience you can tell your friends about later... why not other things, too?

    Listing milestones of "terrible things which have happened to you" seems like it might have a really positive effect on D&D play. "Sure, we didn't find the treasure this time, but Gundar almost got killed, and we saw the Ogres eat our companions... that was eye-opening, and netted us some minor XP. Let's do better next time, right?"

    It's a nice incentive for the "point man" in an adventure, too - you're risking your life, but you might come out of it a little smarter, cooler, more experienced, and more competent.
  • I think that if I wish to play a more dramatic/character-oriented kind of game, I wouldn't hesitate to play something other than D&D. I'm not sure (although I'd love to hear arguments to the contrary!) why I would want to reach for D&D for this kind of gaming instead of a more well-suited game. Passions, moral and religious alignments, crises of confidence, and mental illness... I don't really see why bolting such onto D&D is a better idea than designing from scratch (or playing a more appropriate game).
    Oh, we really should get into that sometime. The things you mention have all been an increasing part of my D&D play and plans as content over the last couple of years. I understand that you're basically listing the who's who of "issues that drama games concern themselves with", but it is ultimately arbitrary to say that wargames can't use material like passion and morality as part of their playscape. One might even argue that the big thing that differentiates D&D from earlier wargames is that it really, really provokes players to consider how that skirmish would really go, rather than just resolving it as per sterile stochastics. The topic of D&D is very personal when compared to other wargames.

    But that's a big topic, and I don't have finished work on it yet, just various campaign plans that do different sorts of things. It is sufficient to say that when I refer to "passion" as a potential concept for D&D, I don't mean the creative payoff of playing a narrativist drama game - I mean a strategic milieu in which you're forced to retreat off the battlefield because a thoughtless PC provoked Cuchulain, and now his passions have come into play as a quantifiable tactical concern. Cuchulain can only activate his super-duper attack when he's provoked, so if you want to have some control over that, better get a sense for what makes him mad.
    Listing milestones of "terrible things which have happened to you" seems like it might have a really positive effect on D&D play. "Sure, we didn't find the treasure this time, but Gundar almost got killed, and we saw the Ogres eat our companions... that was eye-opening, and netted us some minor XP. Let's do better next time, right?"
    Ah, yes. I'm with you there 100%, no reason not to do that. I probably would've gone to "spotting a monster nets its XP" myself long ago if I ever remembered to make the switch.

    Treating Bad Experience not only as normal xp, but also making it what I like to call "petty change" is a completely unproblematic thing to do. The "petty change" XP that monsters, particularly, gain you in many old school rule-sets is a nice trick, but not fundamental: as long as the gains are insignificant, as they should be, the mechanism is more of a psychological trick than anything else.

    The way petty change XP operates is that it feels to the players as meaningful, and it helps provide differentiation in points even at low scores. At some junctures, when properly calibrated, it may almost feel like those points could amount to something - like, maybe we haven't found any treasure for a while, but the sheer amount of combat has netted me 500 XP already. It's the same phenomenon as the XP bonus we discussed in the other thread; players like even those small numbers, even if they're completely meaningless next to the 100 times larger treasure XP payouts.

    So yeah, if I thought that petty XP were particularly harmful, I'd have removed it long ago, but instead I've retained it because it seems to have some modicum of utility. Almost the bit I like the most about it is how offensively, disgustingly small those points can be. "We almost died, and got 5 XP per person for our troubles? Thanks a lot, GM!" That can do a lot for feeding the hunger for success that challengeful D&D rests on.

    I've never refused players their petty XP, either. We've been occasionally giving out petty XP for traps (untextual for old D&D texts, but a logical step to take), for instance, and I'm just fine with that; those numbers simply are never, ever going to amount to much the way the game is calibrated.

    Once you're doing monsters and traps, there's really not much reason not to give out petty XP for all sorts of Bad Experiences:
    10 XP per depth level for entering a new dungeon level and seeing its decor.
    One monster's worth as per its HD for viewing the nest of their kind, even if the monsters are away.
    As per HD for seeing a person you knew, dead.
    1 XP per corpse for any corpses you witness.
    Interpret spell level as monster HD and grant xp for being victim of evil magic.
    Sure, why not? As long as you're not giving out 100s of points per event, the petty change amounts to barely something on 1st level, and increasingly less so later on.
  • (On the subject of passions in OSR play - that's something I would LOVE to hear you write about! Would you consider starting a thread on the topic?)
  • "Petty change" can occasionally be the grain of sand that tips the scale over to level-up. When I was running the post-apoc game with Harrowing XP, there were I think 2-3 occasions where the session ended in complete failure from the loot-extraction point of view (so no treasure XP), but someone netted the last 5-10 XP needed to level up because they were swallowed alive and then their hirelings got murdered by bandits, or whatever.

    That was always a nice morale-stabilizer. In fact, it became something of a trope. "The first session we spend on a dungeon is for mapping, triggering traps, and getting murdered; the second session we make plans and make bank."
  • Yeah, I've had the petty change interact with characters on the brink of level-up as well. It's interesting and of course exciting, and one of the reasons why I keep the small change in the game. If it wasn't there, the only way to "massage" those last few points would be to plan and enact some sort of cowardly points-scoring expedition for minimal risk and petty rewards. Stealing from the old man down the street kind of thing, really, except limited by whatever the GM is willing to run.

    With small change in the game it's easier to do the massage: a Fighter with 1950 XP is just going to need those 50 points from somewhere, and he's likely to get it from the tip jar after almost any session's events. You're simply not going to get stuck at "almost 2nd level" for a long time, which is a good thing.
  • edited January 2018
    (On the subject of passions in OSR play - that's something I would LOVE to hear you write about! Would you consider starting a thread on the topic?)
    Ask, and apparently ye shall receive.
  • Thanks, Eero!

    I'm somewhat on the fence about whether this stuff should function as "petty change" or actually constitute a sizeable reward.

    If it was sizeable, I'd want to build in some other limitations, of course. For example, making a small list of such "harrowing experiences" or "achievements", and decreeing that you can only benefit from each one once, limits their long-term impact quite nicely. Similarly, perhaps only one character in any given party can benefit from such an award? (In groups where characters are often different from session to session, it would mean that only characters who were not present when a certain "harrowing experience" took place could benefit from the award.)

    Making them rare/harsh does so, as well; "being possessed by a demon" in a campaign which mainly features typical Orcs and Dragons might be a fairly rare thing, and largely out of the players' hands, for instance.

    However, I like the idea that trying on a mysterious and likely haunted/infernal mask is going to be tempting to players because, in the case where demonic possession could happen, it would be rewarded with XP. It's also a neat touch that only the characters who *haven't ever seen such a thing before* would be interested; the more experienced adventurers could wisely say, "No, thanks."

    The magnitude of the reward would definitely be something to experiment with. Adjusting the values so that the "harrowing experiences" are more worthwhile at low levels, or, contrariwise, only really significant at high levels, would change their "feel" dramatically, too. I'm not sure which I prefer.
  • I'd be on board with your "horror virginity" notion, although it would practically speaking require putting the list on the character sheet so the player can cross stuff off. Very much an achievement system for D&D, right there. I personally would like the user interface if you got a "greenhorn character sheet" when the game starts, with all sorts of Bad Experience achievements ready to be crossed out. When you've got most of them, are at least 3rd level and are ready to do it, you switch out for the real character sheet [grin].

    The only part I personally have trouble with is that if you end up doling out e.g. 10 000 XP in total through the entire Bad Experience list, that's a pretty major piece of illegitimate scoring right there when compared to my own obsessions with legitimate scoring. I realize and understand that this is all just in my head, but I like to think of the scores as roughly comparable between campaigns and characters. Sort of like if we were comparing Space Invaders scores or something. Part of the enjoyment of the game for me is that characters who move through my hands, either as a GM or a player, really earn their points.

    (And yeah, this is totally the old saw about the D&D geek who's inordinately proud about their character. "I'm a 3rd level magic-user!" I never understood that before I figured out that you're supposed to play these games in a sharp and unmitigating manner. My best character ever, a 3rd level Magic-User, really is a pretty hardcore achievement when you play as sharp as we do. I've witnessed people play for e.g. a 100 sessions without ever getting there. Either somebody carries you, you have remarkable luck, or you got skills.)

    I'll repeat for emphasis that this is just something in my own head; I realize how subjective and local the play practices in reality are, even with global game texts. Everybody's somebody's monty-hauler, the rules allow for infinite variation, and so on.

    Still, I would personally be happier if an "ironic achievement system" like that produced some other currency than XP. Something that didn't go on the scoring record. Like, maybe character scarred by the Bad Experience gets to reroll their HP or some other stats, or there's some sort of weird "Dungeon Veteran Skill Score" that goes up as you see horrible shit, and is then used for something or other.

    Which makes me think of the "combat experience" skills in Twilight 2000 and Cyberpunk 2020 respectively. The simplest way to implement Bad Experience would surely be to just have a crisis response rules mechanism: everybody rolls save-like "crisis response" rolls when something horrible happens (goblins attacking you in a dark tunnel counts). You fail, you get to participate in the fun surprise event in a rather more irrational way than usual - run, freeze, faint, whatever. The only way your crisis response ever gets better is by accumulating Bad Experience - except don't get too much too fast, or you'll just get traumatized.

    There, that's pretty close to something that I could see myself using in something, even with my pre-existing Real Experience mechanics. I think adding what amounts to a Call of Cthulhu sanity check to D&D can only make it more horrible, which I consider a good thing [grin]. It's a simple mechanic, but the fact that just about everything in D&D involves extreme stress and horror means that it's actually entirely central to being an useful member of the team.
  • Whitehack's "Groups" rules give you Advantage (roll 2d20 keep the highest) if you happen to have a Group that's relevant to the roll and is linked to the attribute you're rolling against.

    I can picture hammering out an "achievements" system that works in a similar way; it lets your negative experiences give you a bonus when you come across the same experience later. And it adds a kind of personal dimension to character growth, where the things on your character sheet represent the real experiences you've been through, rather than just a one-size-fits-all progression.
  • I can get on board with that kind of thing, definitely! Certainly adding some horror/trauma/stress to the D&D experience sounds entirely appropriate to me, as well. That's a D&D I would very much like to play.

    What I'm thinking so far, though, is far less ambitious - much like Jeph's list, a set of concrete "harrowing experiences", which will almost certainly simply go on the character sheet and get marked off. These will make for a nice "character history" record along the way.

    I have absolutely no concerns about my XP rates not matching those of other games - while I would also want them to be very hard-earned, I plan on house ruling or redesigning the game so much that comparison with other characters at other tables could not even remotely be something to worry about.

    Off the top of my head, I'd want the rewards to be meaningful (more than pocket change) but significantly less than scoring a major treasure. Without having given it too much thought, they would be worth perhaps 50-250 XPs each, or maybe scale upwards with level. Given a set of 10-20 of them, and most of them rare enough that no character would ever likely survive long enough to gather all of them, they would typically make the difference of a single level at most (and only in rare veteran characters who are missing limbs, sanity, and maybe even a recognizable human appearance).
  • Oh, I just had a thought about how Bad Experiences could be used as an advancement mechanism orthogonal to normal XP!

    Saving throws.

    Let's say your saving throws don't advance at all from gaining class and level. Instead, each save is tied to a number of harrowing experiences. Every time you mark off N of a save's harrowing experiences, its TN drops by one point or whatever.
  • Ah, that's beautiful. I basically don't use saving throws in my main homebrew, but I'll have to keep that in mind for the rules variations where I do!
  • Yeah, that's pretty solid!
  • In my current house rules player gets to roll all of their character's hit dice after a combat to death, and if all of them come up as a large number, they gain an additional hit die.

    This hit die is unrelated to other advancement; experience gives special abilities or attribute increases, but we have only played a couple of sessions and are not there yet.
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