RPG Confessions: Experience points (XP)

So. I don’t care about XP. Just… at all.

Some folks express concern about getting XP at an appropriate rate. And look, I get it. Whatever system you play, there are probably rules about how to get XP and how to turn that XP into a level-up for new skills or spells or whatever. Because that’s part of the game. And you like that. I hear you. I do. I just don’t share that feeling. It’s a fundamental disconnect for me.

Here is why XP does not interest me as a designer, or as a GM.

How I see it

When I think about fantasy, or sci-fi, or horror, I think about books and movies first, and then games next. I think about Conan and Ripley, Elric and John Carter, Perseus and Bilbo, Han Solo and Indiana Jones… And they don’t ever “level-up”.

Perseus getting his godly gear on

They definitely make all sorts of allies, and get magic swords and rings, flame-throwers and power armor, Wookies and cats… but they don’t suddenly awaken to new skills or powers during their adventures.

(I realize that in some newer media, the characters absolutely do suddenly awaken to new skills and powers in the middle of their stories. But I didn’t grow up on those.)

As a player, I have very little interest in leveling up. I want to find dope weapons and gear that I discovered and earned. I don’t want a skill bump just because I killed 37 goblins. I want the goblin king’s axe! And his crown! And that funky belt he’s wearing. And his pet wolf! And maybe his boots, what size is he?

This difference in expectations is partly cultural (in both time and space), and partly idiosyncratic.

But what about…?

Yes, of course I level-up my players’ PCs in my campaigns. But I use various other systems that don’t require me (or the players) to do any extra bookkeeping. I’ve used different methods in different situations, like:

  1. Level up at the end of every session. (A less serious method to just keep things moving along.)
  2. Level up gradually. (One session at level 1, two sessions at level 2, three sessions at level 3, etc., which tends to be what you get anyway when you actually do all the math.)
  3. Level up by milestones (after completing a significant quest, feels reasonable and appropriate).

Although frankly, I’d be content to play an entire campaign at one level and just have the PCs grow stronger through their gear and achievements. But that’s just me, so…

I don’t care about XP.

Do you?

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2 Responses to RPG Confessions: Experience points (XP)

  1. Erik says:

    Some people say that XP and advancement are important as an incentive for players. I don’t care. I play because I like it, I don’t need extra incentives to have fun. I also run and play mostly one-shots or mini-campaigns, changing game frequently, so advancement is rarely very relevant in my group anyway.

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