XP Is the Best Teacher

Ye olde TL;DR - Referees speed up player growth by awarding XP for thoughtful, creative, and curious play.

As noted in the last post, XP and level progression in various tabletop RPGs have been rethought many times. But irrespective of the particulars of any given XP scheme, they are designed to evoke a specific player experience. The things the grant XP are the things the game wants the players to do.

In vintage/retro games, the main source of XP is currency. Cash is king, and the king is king because of cash. Besides money, defeating NPCs in encounters grants a token amount of XP. Good players should take the most important cues just by habituating to these two XP sources. But as a referee, by getting more intentional with how you dispense XP, you can help players catch on faster.

Cannot We Talk It Out?

Start by getting creative in how you use the existing gold and encounter XP mechanics.

Regarding encounter XP, notice it’s based on “encounters” and not “combat”. There are other kinds of encounters besides ones in which one side ends up as bloody carcasses.

One victory in an encounter could be breaking the opponent’s morale and causing them to flee, whether by fighting, intimidation, or any other appropriate means. Keep in mind that if the party scares off their foes and encounters them again later, don’t give the party any more XP! Players will learn from this, too: there are advantages to running down your opponents utterly rather than letting them escape.

Another kind of encounter worthy of XP is the social encounter, which is easy for referees to overlook. “Defeating” NPCs in this context comes down to the player characters (PCs) successfully manipulating the NPC to act in the PCs’ interests and against the NPC’s own. A social checkmate like this should quite reasonably constitute an encounter victory for the party.

Not All That Glitters is Gold, But It Might Be XP

Gold-based XP, on the other hand, is by far the more flexible avenue for awarding XP, because the means for earning it are nearly infinite.

The Revived supplement utilizes a “Profession” system to give characters some semblance of a background and a suite of “skills” without the overhead of a formal “skill system”.

In periods of downtime, characters can engage in their craft. My recommendation is to not make this lucrative, or else players will farm for XP this way instead of venture out. However, if characters employ their trade in a creative way, don’t be afraid to compensate them more generously. Maybe an engineering-minded character (like a carpenter) applied their craft to dungeoneering to sell devices which aid in dungeon exploration.

Reward players for interrogating the artifacts they come across while adventuring. For example, if players ask about coins they find in the dungeon, feel free to decide that they were minted in an age long past and worth more than their material value to collectors. Or if your players take the time to harvest the curious anatomy of rare creatures, consider having magic-users in town pay them for dangerous-to-acquire material spell components.

XP For Your Thoughts?

But of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to these two XP mechanics. You’re the referee: you can hand out XP whenever you want.

One of my favorite techniques, which I stole from my favorite referee, is to give out between 5 and 100 XP for players asking good questions or solving problems in interesting ways. I often use this when a player uncovers a game mechanic no one bothered to read or lurked in the referee section of the book.

For instance, in a recent session, a brand new player asked if there was a way to improve his character’s weapon. I gave him XP and directed him to the Revived Item Reliability rules. By paying more for a premium weapon, his character could obtain a weapon that was less likely to break under strain. This curiosity-based XP is also a good way to incentivize players to interact with the game world like it is a real place. It can be hard to get players to explore the game world, so throwing them some points can make it worth their while.

There is no rule awarding XP for defeating traps, but why not? Traps are just as dangerous to PCs as monsters, sometimes more. If the players permanently disable the trap, they should earn XP just as if they had defeated a foe in battle.

Finally, another technique inspired by my previous referee is to hand out XP for good session recaps. I start every session by allowing one player to give a recap. If the recap is highly detailed, I give them XP. Remembering game state is extremely important, so giving the players a consistent chance to profit from keeping track of it will help acclimate them to doing so.

These are just a few ideas, and while you’re free to use them, you should also come up with your own. Regardless, of whether you implement these or create new ones, the important thing is to (a) think about what you want your players to do in the game and then (b) give them XP for doing those things. Once your players discover what will move their characters along, they will be only too happy to continue doing so.


Popular Posts