Awarding XP

MathI have seen several discussions on how people award experience points for their system of choice. Some dole out the experience points by their system’s guidelines. Some make tweaks to the system or do it in a manner completely their own.

When I got back into gaming after a decade long lapse, I came with with D&D 3.x. I followed the experience point system religiously. Calculating challenge ratings, encounter levels and then handing out the appropriate amount of experience. A decent portion of my prep time was being spent with an experience point calculator so I could hand out experience points “correctly”.

My comeback as GM ended after about 6 months thanks to a TPK at the hands of an arachnid mouther. One of the other guys, a long time GM, in the newly formed group took up the reins as GM. He didn’t assign XP. He just told you when it was time to level up. It took just a little bit of getting used to, after all we were so used to recording experience points and watching that progression from week to week. But once we got used to this level up when the GM says, it worked out just fine.

The next time I GM’ed I ran a Paizo Adventure Path. I did not award XP at the end of each session. This alone frees up a good amount of time from bookkeeping. Time that can be better spent in other weekly preparation tasks. Of course with an Adventure Path this is a very easy method to use. Each installment of the AP tells you what level the characters should be at the beginning and at the end. This makes it very easy to keep pace without all of the overhead of calculating XP from week to week.

I adopted this same method for the Dungeon Crawl Classics game I am running online. I do not track XP there either. Characters hit 1st level once the 0-level funnel was complete. From there they level when I say it is time to hit the next level. We’ve been playing since late July, early August and they are 3rd level at the moment.

This method seems to have worked well for this DCC RPG group as well. It saves me a lot of time that can now be spent prepping fun things for the sessions instead of accounting tasks.

The Future

As I continue my closer look at several other OSR type rule systems it appears I may need to change my ways. With character classes frequently reaching their level advancement points at different XP amounts it will be a little harder to tell everyone to level-up at the same time.

I suspect as I finally settle in on an OSR system (or my own unique blend of them) I will end up handing out XP once again. I do not see myself going back to the meticulous accounting I used back in D&D 3.x, but a quick eyeballing, counting of treasure, and roll from there in handing out XP.

Finding this happy medium between arbitrary leveling up and meticulous accounting of XP I think the blend will help give players a feeling of achievement while still keeping my overhead as GM down.

I would much rather spend my limited time prepping the fun parts of adventures than playing accountant via complicated XP systems!

8 thoughts on “Awarding XP

  1. I don’t think I am a 3.x apologist, but I occasionally see comments about the ‘complexity’ of XP calculation in 3.x, but I continue to be unsure of where the ‘complexity’ was… I’d write down CRs as they were defeated, at the end of the session I’d look up the XP for those, add them up, divide by party members and that’s it. I know the book says do it for each character individually, but it was pretty rare that not everyone was involved in each encounter (or was a different level), and easy enough to adjust as needed. If this process took ten minutes, it must’ve been a complex night (and/or someone is telling a really funny story at the same time that I’m grabbing a few numbers from the DMG or trying to add 750 to 1125). Was I doing it wrong? I GM’d 3.5 only; was there something different about determining XP in 3.0 vs. 3.5, and that’s what I’m missing?

    • There are plenty of things about D&D 3.x I liked when I was playing. It was a good system to me.

      But even the time spent writing down CRs, adding them up, dividing and consulting various tables was time I always felt could be spent elsewhere that would have greater impact on the game. I just do not like the experience point accounting game if I can avoid it. To be fair I am not a huge fan of planning the perfect balanced encounter either!

      I am running a lot of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG now and it has a fairly easy XP system. I still avoid using it as there are things I prefer to spend my time on that I feel improve the game more than meticulous XP tracking.

  2. My experience with the system is limited, but I recall Green Ronin’s True 20 system handles experience in a similar way. The party levels up when the GM brings the game events to a suitable point and just directs the players to level up.

    I’ve always handled XP in a similar way in my games. There would be some effort to track experience from combat initially, but it inevitably breaks down and we just level up when a major quest or objective is accomplished. Other times we gave experience for finishing non-combat objectives, which essentially acts as the GM determining the next level up.

  3. I got mentioned in a blog post! I’m the DM who just leveled up all the PCs at the same time and didn’t hand out XP. I think that works great for games like D&D and Pathfinder where keeping the characters the same level is important to the structure of the game.

    However, in games like Dungeon Crawl Classic I gave out XP after each encounter. And not all the characters would earn the same XP. The game only lasted a couple months as it was a fill in campaign but I think it worked pretty well.

    For the current campaign we are using a point system game (d6) so XP has to be handed out each session so it can be spent by the players.

    The different ways of handling XP does have a nice impact on the feel of the game. Some games are going to be challenge focused so the Players want to do more with their characters to earn the most XP like with DCC. But Pathfinder I felt the story was more important and didn’t want players going out of their way to kill things or find adventure just because they were level chasing.

    • Yeah, the DCC RPG method you used was fun. And it was admittedly nice as a player to watch the XP build up.

      I suspect the next game I run I will try something in-between again. Award XP each session, but with less precision than I tried to do with D&D.

  4. I’m looking for a better method of awarding xp as well. Currently, I award at significant points in the story for our DCC campaign. The death of a player character and their restart at level 1 while the remaining party continue to advance has made it a little more difficult to award by my system.

    I need a happy medium between story point award and encounter based award. Besides, the players do enjoy seeing their climbing xp as the level approaches.

    Can’t imagine tracking xp values based on individual character contribution to the encounter. Seems like a lot of work to my prep.

    • Handling deaths in DCC RPG games as the main group gets higher and higher is interesting. We’ve tried a cut-scene funnel (I posted on the blog about it, should be under the Dungeon Crawl Classics category. It is our most recent attempt at replenishing the “character stable”.

      The method of just telling players when to level their characters does have the negative impact of players not seeing progression between levels. It seems this does not bother my players tremendously, at least not enough for them to mention it to me. Certainly a factor to consider though.

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