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Erik Mona's Lo-Fi Experience System - Lemuria Press
Strange Adventures on Other Worlds

Date: 2006-12-11 22:13
Subject: Erik Mona's Lo-Fi Experience System
Security: Public
Location:Ballard, USA
Music:Boston Legal on DVD
I've been thinking a lot about the experience point system in Dungeons & Dragons, and I've come to the conclusion that I just don't like it. Excrutiating detail is built into an overly complex system for determining xp awards for killing monsters, but achievement of non-combat goals is given, at best, a hand-waving "drop them a few xp to shut them up" sort of cursory attention. Figuring it all out at the end of a fun session of D&D necessitates a lot of calculation for an extremely limited reward. After carefully balancing encounters against the average party level based on the Challenge Ratings of the creatures involved (with the use of lots of handy charts), you do some quick division and chart scanning to be rewarded with a highly abstract number that charts the character's progress. Basically, when all of the math is said and done, you're left with one of two conclusions: the character didn't go up a level or the character did go up a level.

I'm not saying the math is difficult, but it undoubtedly takes time, especially when you're dealing, as I do, with a party of eight players. On a certain level I understand that this bookkeeping is "part of Dungeons & Dragons," but it's not a whole lot of fun, and it makes prepping for my bi-weekly game a lot more tedious than it ought to be.

Let me repeat myself.

The current experience point system makes the game tedious. The actual playing of the game? Great. The prepping and "after action" taxwork? Not so much.

I also dislike the system for its abstraction. All of the numbers are behind the GM screen. The players really have no idea how many experience points they ought to get from a given combat, so all they really seem to track is a sense of when they "should" have gone up a level after a few sessions without getting experience. There is no sense that their characters' development is in their hands, because no player-initiated action (other than "I attack!") is rewarded with a significant number of experience points.

I contend that the players should know the measure of their success, and that measure should be based less on arcane mathmatic guesswork about a creature's toughness and more on what activities a player can engage in to develop his character and make the campaign more fun for everyone to play. I have therefore, as of about 20 minutes ago, come up with a new way to do experience points in the d20 system. I call it:


At the end of each session, the Game Master assigns experience points based upon the session's play. Experience points are awarded to each character individually. A PC gains an experience point award for each encounter in which he survives. Characters do not earn experience points for encounters in which they are killed, even if later returned to life.

Play is divided into three encounter types: Epic, Development, and Standard. Each encounter type offers a different experience point reward.

EPIC encounters are combat encounters 2 or more levels higher than the average party level and/or the defeat of a significant enemy.
Value: 4 experience points.

DEVELOPMENT encounters involve significant, player-initiated character development through roleplay, such as befriending an NPC, keeping in touch with family, establishing and using a personal motto, and so on. Choosing and painting a miniature for your character or sketching your character might qualify as a development encounter.
Value: 3 experience points.
Special: A character may receive experience points from only one development encounter per level.

STANDARD encounters are combat encounters within 1 of the average party level or complex roleplaying encounters involving several skill checks. Disabling a complex trap blocking a party's progress through a dungeon might qualify as a standard encounter, but picking a single lock definitely wouldn't.
Value: 1 experience point.

A character gains a new level each time she achieves 20 experience points.

1st 0
2nd 20
3rd 40
4th 60
5th 80
6th 100
7th 120
8th 140
9th 160
10th 180
11th 200
12th 220
13th 240
14th 260
15th 280
16th 300
17th 320
18th 340
19th 360
20th 380

Post A Comment | 29 Comments | | Link

Robyn Fleming: D&D
User: revena
Date: 2006-12-12 06:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sounds like an appealing system to me, and I'd be interested in trying it out to see whether it would satisfy my players. I haven't had the energy to DM in ages, in large part because of all the number-juggling involved (and because one of my most enthusiastic players is a rules lawyer of astonishing proportions, which makes all the calculations extra-fun), but I've been thinking about doing a quick campaign over the holiday season - perhaps it'd be a good time to try your Lo-Fi system.
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User: lemuriapress
Date: 2006-12-12 06:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Nice! Let me know how it goes. I might feel differently with a smaller group, but certain elements of the game have become Pains in the Ass, and I don't play games to make my butt hurt. I play games to have fun.
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Robyn Fleming: Beholder
User: revena
Date: 2006-12-12 06:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My game was seven players strong, at one point, so I can kinda sympathise. There's a ton of administrative stuff taking up all the time, when there are that many people sitting around the table.

I've always been kinda frustrated by the problem of calculating experience for roleplay, too. During the time when my game had seven players, we once ended up playing for twelve straight hours one Sunday without a single combat. It was, hands down, the best gaming session I've ever been a part of - but how was I to go about figuring exp for it? AUGH.
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User: lemuriapress
Date: 2006-12-12 06:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Under this system, I would have broken the day's play into component parts and assigned experience as appropriate, probably by counting the "standard" encounter awards. Big groups tend to split up a lot, so different characters would probably get different XP awards for the session. I'd further assign development encounter XP as appropriate, primarily for people "acting in character" or player-initiated quirk-building.

A very involved character might get something like 5 experience points, possibly 7 if something really important was achieved.

The fact that big groups split up so much is actually something of a pain in the ass. The Lo-Fi system encourages them to do things as a team, which cuts down on the balls the GM has to juggle while at the same time cutting down on the amount of time players sit around the table being bored.
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Chairwoman of the BBC Naughty Ladies Club
User: bbcaddict
Date: 2006-12-12 06:57 (UTC)
Subject: you know how they say dogs or cats hear right?
Here's what this post read like to me...
"Erik blah blah math blah GREEK etc. this is how football is scored Erik"

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User: lemuriapress
Date: 2006-12-12 07:12 (UTC)
Subject: Re: you know how they say dogs or cats hear right?
Yeah, that's about right.
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Eric Haddock: d20 Orange
User: mysticalforest
Date: 2006-12-12 07:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:d20 Orange
There's good and bad.

The good is that it takes a step toward quantifying contributions like backgrounds and sketches. Something like that is needed for D&D, I says.

As an aside, I wouldn't mind requiring people to fill out a background sheet amongst their character sheet info before they could choose a class but after they roll stats and race. Don't have to write a paragraph, just fill in a form with a couple sentences here and there, or more if they like.

Anyway, the bad is that it seems like you're substituting one arbitrary scale for another, and calculation and estimation is involved with both. Lo-fi probably won't involve a calculator is all, but I'm not sure that's worth learning/adopting/switching to a new XP system.

Nor does it address one important problem with XP—and is the very question asked by at least one player at the end of every single session of D&D I'm in: What's the XP needed for next level?

If no one asks that at any one of my sessions I'll eat my hat.

Here's how I do XP: I ask what everyone's level is and open to the XP table in the DMG and think about the encounters they've faced. Was this fight a challenge? Yes = a CR reward equal to the level of the characters who participated as written on the table. 4th-level players get a 4th-level reward. If tough, reward a level higher; if not, a level lower. Add up, divide by the number of players at the table. Done. If there is a mix of levels, reward according to the highest level, so lower-level people get more XP than higher so they catch up.

I also reward non-combat things based on how difficult it was or how much it advanced the plot. Also 100% subjective.

I don't do any planning for XP. The one and only thing I think about is after the night's play is done and before everyone leaves. It's all general impression and my feeling on how things went generally that night as to whether they get one below, the same, or one above their level in XP reward.

It works. Characters are leveling every four or five sessions, which is as I recall the general design intention.

Still they ask every session about how mnay XP are needed for the next level.

I suppose the easiest system, and the one that would eliminate XP level requirements, is to say people go up a level every four sessions they play and be done with it altogether.
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User: lemuriapress
Date: 2006-12-12 07:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That was honestly my first solution, but instead I wanted to opt for something that encouraged the players to some extent taking charge of their investment. I have what I assume are some of the most experienced D&D players in the country in my regular group. Many of them know what feat they are going to take three levels from now. But I don't think any of them are thinking about what they need to do to get there. In D&D experience just happens as a side-effect of surviving. I think you should be rewarded, at least in part, for the things that make the game fun to play.
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User: sad_genius
Date: 2006-12-12 08:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My most immediate (if dry and rulesy) thought is that since this kind of thing is defined down to the minutae for me all across the rest of D&D, I'd like a concrete system to define "complex roleplaying encounters involving several skill checks" and "disabling a complex trap" - it's fairly easy to conjur, admittedly, for example:

1 XP for any roleplaying encounter in which a PC makes 3 (successful?) skill checks at DC 10 + Average Part Level + 2

1 XP for disabling a trap with a CR 2 or more higher than the parties level

but yeah - I like it. May give it a try the next D&D campaign I run (my players are fairly entrenched in AoW right now, and I'm trying to GM that as close to The Book as possible, in part to get valid play experience for writing for Some Miscellaneous Magazine).
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User: sad_genius
Date: 2006-12-12 08:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Suddenly occurs to me that since these are "standard" encounters you might want to rip out those +2 CR bonuses, since I guess that would fall under Epic.
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User: lemuriapress
Date: 2006-12-12 08:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm not really sure that I need the system to differentiate between encounters that drain 25% of the party's resources and encounters that drain 50%. I'm interested largely in differentiating between encounters in which the PCs stand a chance of dying and ones in which they don't.
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User: sad_genius
Date: 2006-12-12 10:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was mainly worrying whether the rest of D&D's basic assumptions about CR, levels and such require you to that differentiating ...
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User: james_p_davis
Date: 2006-12-12 08:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am intrigued. This is definitely worth a shot. Great post!

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User: thecaptainsblog
Date: 2006-12-12 12:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In my current d20 Apocalypse game, Mutant Age, I made exp equal to the level needed x 100. Even 1st level requires 100 exp. Otherwise, the system I'm using is very similar to yours. (I only went with level x 100 exp so no one would ever have to ask how much they needed to get to 5th, or whatever. So far, so good.)
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Kris Jensen
User: miserychick1138
Date: 2006-12-12 14:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Interesting system. It seems like most of the DMs here at school tend to just go 'Everybody go up a level' at the end of every session or two, which seems a little fast to me, but most games only meet every other week, so I can kind of understand it.

The only problem I can see with either system is that I'm not sure how you'd handle item creation. But then again, I've never really liked the idea of spending EXP to make items, but I couldnt really think of a better way to keep the players from turning into an item factory without it...
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Aaron M. Cooke
User: helium3
Date: 2006-12-13 19:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Leveling up every two game sessions is about right if each game session contains one standard day's worth of encounters. The DMG seems to think it should take 12 or 13 encounters but I suspect most DM's increase the EL of their encounters as encounters of the appropriate level as per DMG are pretty boring.
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M: Laharl
User: irishninja
Date: 2006-12-12 17:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hmm... I definitely like the sound of this system. I might try to implement it in my game, since we've only so far had one session.

The "system" I use is to hand out an arbitrary amount of XP at the end of sessions. Are the PCs leveling up too slowly for my tastes? More XP! Are they leveling too quickly? Fewer XP! It's not at all By The Book, but it certainly gets rid of that pesky math difficulty.

In the short campaign I played in run by Mr. Baur, he just told us one day that our characters leveled up. No mention of XP the entire campaign. And you know? It worked out beautifully.

This would require a revamping of the item creation rules, but they desperately needed revamping anyway, so I don't consider that a true problem. :)
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James Jacobs
User: bigfootcountry
Date: 2006-12-12 19:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I approve of this event or product.

XP is certainly overly complicated as it currently stands, and even worse, the numbers it's based on (CR scores) are arbitrary and often just plain wrong.

I agree that the PCs need to know what they did that resulted in XP. When I hand out XP at the end of the session, I call out all the awards; "You get a CR 3 award for the orc fighter, two CR 4 awards for the pair of carrion crawlers, a CR 3 award for talking your way into the prison, and a CR 3 award for managing to escape with the secret documents without alerting the guards."

One thing that's important, though, is that you DO give the PCs something. It's not very rewarding to play for 4 hours and then not have anything to show for it. At the end of the session, it's cool to be able to erase one number and write in its place a larger number. The actual value of thsoe numbers isn't really meaningful, as long as it's something that a PC can track and follow.

Keep in mind too, that if you simplify the XP points, you also need to address the fact that spellcasters need XP points to cast powerful spells or to craft magic items. In my campaign, I hand out "build points" which are equal to 1/25 of an experience point. Characters use these points to cast spells or craft items, and doing so doesn't deplete their actual XP. For this system, it'd be a simple thing to just say that every time you get an XP, you get 100 (or whatever) build points as well.

Of course, Item Crafting feats are another post entirely.
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User: varianor
Date: 2006-12-13 01:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is a pretty good system. (My current method is that I announce occasionally "Everyone level up!".) It's rather like Champions actually and uses an almost identical scale save that it doesn't have 1s and 5s. Which is better. Easier.

What it doesn't have is any individual recognition awards. I like to go around the table at the end of a game and have each person recognize at least one significant action, RPing or Good Thing of their peer's (not their own). Then I give a little bonus award for that. Over time, different people gain about the same amount of bonus awards.
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Joe Selby
User: the_outlaw
Date: 2006-12-13 02:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If you haven't looked at it before, you should check out the experience progression in Savage Worlds. It's a lot like what you described.
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User: mortellan
Date: 2006-12-13 06:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Nice system!

I've toiled over the XP rules many times as well. Is it my imagination or did they change how it works from 3.0 to 3.5? I think 2nd edition had it down better on the XP awards(I think it was 2e). Each class had their own motivated XP awards. Fighter tended to be the only ones concerned with bashing stuff for instance, whereas Thieves were about gold count.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-12-13 06:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I find your ideas intriguing, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Erik, how would/will you handle item creation (and casting wishes, communes, and the like)?

Next campaign, I may use the True20 experience system ("the PCs level when you feel they should"). :)

I used a simple spreadsheet to do the addition & division when I first started running 3e (fall 2000). Halfway through Speaker in Dreams, I got tired of looking at the XP chart, and made the spreadsheet do all the math. Now I just put in # of creatures at X CR, divided by N PCs, and it tells me the XP.

The formulas are ugly; adding new PCs (or whole new parties) is an exercise in copy & paste; and I don't know if I could recreate it from scratch -- but I'm no Excel wizard. I just wanted it to work, and it does.
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User: lemuriapress
Date: 2006-12-13 06:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I haven't made up my mind yet. I am tempted to abandon the xp cost of everything, since it unfairly penalizes spellcasters for doing what they are supposed to do, which is dumb.

The problem with "the PCs level when you feel they should" is that this is supposed to be a game, and not just story time. I like the idea that the actions the PCs undertake directly contributes to their advance in level. I think that's a core element of the Dungeons & Dragons game, and while I have decided to tinker with a few of the rules that bother me, at the end of the day I still want to be playing D&D.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-12-13 13:03 (UTC)
Subject: Even that's too much detail :)
Hi Erik!

I think a system like yours is a fine way to encourage certain player behaviors and give them a sense of their progress. But if you have an established group, everyone is contributing as much as they want, and they don't need to be encouraged to do interesting things, then at some point XP are not needed at all.

On the other hand, I think XP can be a great way to encourage specific behaviors. Maybe the DM and each player should sit down and (together) develop goals, and then when those goals are met, awards are given. There could be Rules Goals (something that comes up a lot and pertains to the player's character -- know the basic grapple rules, know how dispel magic works), character goals (develop a background story, ask more questions of NPCs), and player goals (come prepared with an accurate character sheet, make an effort to let Player B talk more). The player could be responsible for keeping tabs on these and reporting to the DM at the end of the session (explaining and justifying as needed). So now, killing monsters or even having an Epic victory (as you put it -- who needs encouragement to do that -- it's the most inherently fun part of the game! :) doesn't lead to XP. Instead, meeting individually tailored goals does.
-- Eric Noah
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Aaron M. Cooke
User: helium3
Date: 2006-12-13 19:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

You use smaller numbers so math challenged folks won't have a hissy fit trying to add 26,451 to 122,593.

You provide guidelines on how to assign XP to non-combat encounters.

The XP you provide for role-playing encounters is greater than that for combat encounters, giving players a reason to seek out role-playing situations rather than combat.


DM's still need to deal with using CR to calculate EL.

In your system a combat encounter is either BBEG-level or standard-mook-level. There is no way to differentiate between encounters that provide no challenge, encounters that are difficult, and suicidal battles that players manage to win through courage, luck and great skill.

It's a cool system and if I had a problem using the system described in the DMG I'd probably switch to something like it.

You don't talk about how to mate this system up with item creation, XP costs for spells or XP penalties for excessive multi-classing.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-12-13 21:53 (UTC)
Subject: Unearthed Arcana goes Old School
Hi Eric,
Why don't you just use the XP variant from Unearthed Arcana - fixed XPs for monsters (last few pages if I remember).
1st edition did make this easy.
You just total them up at the end of the session and divide by 8 (or 4 or however many people show up.)

Then assign CR values to your story awards / development awards.
It's easy to reward that sort of play - make the base CR of the award = to their current level & adjust up & down depending upon how big a deal it is.

Or wing it & reward them instantly when they do something cool: "that was great!
25/50/100/250 xp's for you"
At first level it's small rewards, you've got to be more generous at higher levels - but I find handing out story/development/fun roleplaying rewards the instant they happen really encourages the roleplaying aspects.

With your system I could see players feeling let down when they hit 17th level & you say : "ok, you killed King Snurre & his drow advisors, everyone gets 4xp!"
Especially when they got the same 4 xp's for taking down the mad druid Belak at 2nd or 3rd level.
I know the pregression works the same, but it's also about player perception of accomplishment - getting 2000xp feels like more of an accomplishment than getting 50xp's.

UA's fixed XP reward is less work & keeps the tradition of big numbers.

If it's just the math time there are great XP calculators out there for excel - just download one, plug in your numbers & email the players their XPs' after they go home.
Takes me all of 10 minutes tops, including the email time.
Email me & I'll send you one if you want.
Rory Weston
rweston at uniserve dot com
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Aaron M. Cooke
User: helium3
Date: 2006-12-14 03:18 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Unearthed Arcana goes Old School
The psychological factor of getting larger and larger numbers of XP is something I hadn't considered.
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User: ruinednet
Date: 2006-12-14 21:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I definitely agree with revamping the system to accomodate player goals, RP and the like. Only reason I'm using the standard system in one of my campaigns is it's an Adventure Path and I want the PCs to scale up at the expected pace.

I've used Rel's system (from EN World) for about four or five years now, and it's worked well. One thing we both noticed is that when you're giving out XP for tasks (like skill checks) where certain characters can succeed, keep in mind the skill-challenged classes. If every character gets XP for fighting the monsters, but the rogues get XP for skills as well, there needs to be a way for pure fighters, etc. to earn their keep. I can send you a copy of a spreadsheet I've used should you have interest.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-12-15 17:41 (UTC)
Subject: XP
Hey Eric... under this system, it takes about 5 to 7 encounter to advance a level... which could be every session or it could be every 20 sessions...

I've been using a very very simple system since day one of 3.0...

After a number of sessions equal to their level, the PCs advance a level.

Since we never play beyond level 9... this works out really well and it means the early levels pass quickly.

I agree 100% that the DnD system is clunky, but your 20 point scale should ALSO float based on the needs of the DM and PCs.

- jim pinto
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