Saturday, October 29, 2011

D&D: Ditching XP and thinking (Power) Levels

There was a time that I ran a short-lived D&D campaign using 3rd Edition rules set in the Forgotten Realms, and I dispensed with XP for monsters, treasure, encounters, traps and so on. I basically said that characters would level up by one level for every three sessions they played (based primarily on the fact that I had only so many scenarios and a tight schedule to actually run games).

The campaign framework was a combination railroad / sandbox: a merchant caravan. The main prepared encounters and NPCs and what not were based on the caravan's trip from the Dalelands, through two other kingdoms.

It helped me keep down the bookkeeping, shifted the focus of the characters away from taking on every obstacle they found in order to max out their XP haul, and let me spend more time figuring out what their opposition might be like.

I remember that one of the interesting things that came up due to this shift in thought was trying to use levels (and the 3E challenge ratings) to create a sort of "landscape of challenges". Certain areas (and plot threads) that I didn't want them to pursue at the time were immediately supplied with recognizable high-level threats in comparison to their current level, but leaving things open for them to pursue now -- or perhaps later when they could better handle the obstacles. My players, without the high reward for high risk option, seemed to act a bit more cautious and only went after surprisingly difficult opponents due to roleplaying / character motivations or because they weren't listening carefully and this misjudged their opposition.

The experience made me want to tinker more with Challenge Ratings and Levels without concerns for XP gain rates.

Of course, 3E already was a big shift away from traditional XP gain in D&D. They had XP for getting past traps, and other XP bonuses -- so I don't know if was just ignoring some improvements already made to the gain. I just wanted to get past the bookkeeping and adventure at a controlled rate of progress throughout my campaign.

Also, thinking about the campaign, I'm reminded of the "Drizz't effect", because certain players kept trying to make some captured Drow "good" by talking to them and being nice to them. I don't know if they felt betrayed when the Drow pretended (rather badly) to go along with the conversion attempts, but the villagers and other players weren't fooled. But that's another post for another day.

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That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.