Saturday, March 6, 2010

Are you experienced?

This was prompted by this post and this post at the Tao of D&D - a thought provoking blog if you haven't checked it out.

Sitting on the toilet at 3:30 AM last night after returning from the first 8 hour D&D session I have had in a long time, something crystallized in my mind.  I realized why I have been struggling for so long with the way D&D rewards experience primarily for killing things (and taking their loot in the earliest editions).  It boils down to semantics.  If instead of "experience points" they were called "combat points" or "martial prowess" or some such bullshit, I would probably never have had this problem.

The word "experience" brings to mind a whole host of things.  By the time we are conscious beings, we have had more experiences than we could ever enumerate and each one has helped shape who we are.  This process of course continues until it stops (or doesn't depending on your beliefs) at death.  The word itself implies that anything that happens to you is an "experience" because you "experienced" that thing happening.

I truly believe that this has been at the root of my long standing practice of disregarding the rules as written when it comes to awarding XP.  You simply cannot convince me that someone only becomes more "experienced" by killing something.  I have killed very few things more complex than an insect (and no humans, demihumans or monsters to date!), yet I am far more experienced now than I was when a child.  I dare say I have leveled up a few times, even.  You cannot explain this away with my acquisition of wealth because I have not been terribly successful in this regard.  So my subconscious reaction to the word "experience" has made it very hard for me to not award XP in a game when players obviously have just undergone some life-changing events, taken actions that would have grown them as people and spent time and effort outside of combat accomplishing things.

Now over at the Tao of D&D, I think Alexis has looked at this from the other side of the equation.  He has looked at the mechanical changes that occur when a D&D character levels up, and sees those changes as a steady progression of getting better at killing shit.  When you frame the problem like that, D&D experience makes sense.  I may just change the word I use for "experience" in my D&D games and become a traditionalist.

Nah, who am I kidding, my way is the one true way and everyone else is going to hell.  Repent, Convert and Bathe in the Glory of My Light!


  1. The only fly in the ointment is that "getting better at killing shit" isn't all that occurs. In 4E, everything about the character improves: combat of course, but also skills and feats (some of which are actually non-combat). Quite a few Utility powers that can be gained via levelling are non-combat, as well.

    And in 4E, you don't just get XP for killing shit. You also get it for Skill Challenges and overcoming Traps/Hazards.

    In older editions, too, thievery skills improved as you progressed. Clerics and Magic-users got more spells, many of which had nothing to do with combat. And some folk used other skills in OSD&D, which generally improved with experience levels.

    So unfortunately, gaining XP for only combat is kinda dumb, in my opinion, regardless of edition. $0.02

  2. While I am on your side of the fence, eabod, the counterargument is that all the things you mentioned (skills, feats, utility powers, thief skills, spells...) are PRIMARILY used to get better at killing shit. Not to mention that the one common thread ALL the editions have is that as you level up you get more HP (can take more damage in combat) and can hit things better.

  3. My wizard has a pointy hat. He likez killing stuff too.

  4. Experience point for killing monster has the advantage that it is easy and works as a way of 'keeping score'. Does it make much sense, not really, but it works for certain styles of games.

  5. XP for treasure was the fast-track to levelling up.

  6. "My wizard has a pointy hat. He likez killing stuff too."



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