Sunday, July 3, 2016

I'm DMing Without XP, and my Players aren't B*%@#ing about It

I have received some ... dissenting opinions in response to my post "Eliminating XP."  The general theme of these responses is that XP are a good way to reward characters not only for the typical reasons, but also for ingenuity and playing in-character.  I attempted to advance the idea that these could be rewarded using game mechanics other than XP.  However, my initial post doesn't really go into this--it glosses over it with links to another post wherein Hero Points are discussed in an epilogue.  I have since made an effort to gain some experience with this type of play, and will share with your my experience and insight.


As most of you should be aware, I have been running a Pathfinder campaign since last fall. In this campaign, I have chosen to avoid experience points.  My regular players include two D&D veterans, two players with only a couple of years experience, and two brand new initiates into RPGs.  When I informed them that I would be awarding experience levels based on attendance and participation instead of combat, no one complained.  When I told them they would receive Hero Points as rewards for special actions, they didn't really know what I was talking about.
In 5th Edition, there are both Inspiration (introduced in the Player's Handbook) and Hero Points (detailed in the Dungeon Master's Guide).  In Pathfinder, there are only Hero Points (explained in the Advanced Player's Guide, and available online)--which do much the same thing as both Inspiration and their 5th Edition counterpart. While I will be focusing on Hero Points in this post, the concepts learned can also be applied to Inspiration.
After encouraging my players to uses their hero points once or twice to show what they could do with them (and allowing a lot of freedom beyond their proscribed use), my players have come to appreciate the kind of reward that Hero Points are.  This is also enforced by removing Hero Points whenever a player distracts other players, derails the game, or is otherwise disruptive.  More often, however, Hero Points are rewarded as prizes for good role-playing, ingenuity, or just f*@#ing getting it.

While I wish my players would actually use their Hero Points more often, they do at least talk about them regularly.  Heck, they will even point out to me when they think another player has earned a Hero Point.  This tells me that they accept that Hero Points are a valid reward for role-playing.  And since I reward Hero Points in play, the players get instant gratification for their good gaming.

At the end of the session, I am not bogged down by a lot of math.  Instead, the players ask me if anyone leveled up.  I pull out my stack of player record sheets and add the day's session to the record of everyone who was present.  If anyone has completed the necessary number of sessions, I let them know that their character has leveled up.  If a player has to leave before that announcement, then I can just text them about their new level; I on't need to compare and confirm 4+ digit numbers.

I believe that my "experiment" without XP was a success.  When playing with a balanced experience system (3.x, d20 Modern, 4th, 5th, and similar), I do not foresee myself using XP again.  I enjoy the flow session conting provides--and I like that it makes my players thing about more than just combat.  Combat encounters do not have to be strictly balanced, either.  This has offered me the freedom that I need to run the game that I want.  I look forward to seeing this system works with another game system.

12 comments:

  1. Check out torchbearer if you haven't already. There is no xp. Players get Fate Points and Persona points based on a set of questions to be asked at the end of session about how well each player played their character's "build" (belief, goal and instinct). And, how well they played overall (MVP, Best Team player and RP embodiment of the character). The group votes on these. You level up by spending these points in future sessions. You level up individual skills by using them (#passes, #fails).

    It works beautifully. I have not even thought about XP in this system. I'm too busy trying to stay alive!

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    1. Thanks for the heads-up. I will check it out!

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    2. If you've ever played the vidoe game Path of Exile, it's similar to how money in that game has been replaced by objects with intrinsic value. For instance, orbs that you can use to make a weapon stronger, trade with other players or spend at merchants.

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  2. Just wanted to share an article I wrote eight years ago :-P Shares some thoughts on development and removing the XP mindset. http://tagsessions.blogspot.com/2011/12/removing-xp-gained-mindset.html

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  3. My group is all relative new players. I started off keeping track of XP. After a few sessions I would just award the amount of XP I thought they would earn, and to have them level when I thought they should. Now I just tell them when to level up and have also completely gotten rid of XP. Very liberating!

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  4. My play is mostly online by posting (out of unwelcome necessity) how would you dole out levels in a campaign with no clear session breaks?

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    1. In that case, I would suggest doing levels based on story--earning levels by plot milestones.

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  5. 13th age deals with this by saying the dm chooses when the group levels up. Also each session players get incremental advances which can be used to gain hit points from next level, a bonus to skill checks or even a spell from next level. It works out suprisingly well

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  6. Why deal with levels at all if doing things this way? Why not say that each component part is a reward? You get X skill points in Y skill. Your aim becomes better. You know these spells, and the damage goes up. You become tougher (HP). You gain this feat by figuring it out.

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    1. Sure, there are variations of the d20 System out there that handle things the way you describe. I don't do it that way because I don't want to. I don't use XP any more because I don't want that, either. I have found that playing the way I have been gives me the game that I want to play--and my players seem to be enjoying the experience as well. Each DM must find for themselves the limit to their house ruling. Keeping levels while abandoning experience points is one of mine; I will not skip levels in this game.

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