20 October 2013

XP for Gold: Clearly Defined Lines

After wrapping up his Watchmen stint, superhero/evil genius Ozymandias was kind enough to leave this comment on my post about XP for Gold: Reputation and Confidence:
How do we delineate when gold acquisition counts for experience?

The argument I've seen often goes to the extreme end right away: If I find a chest of gold on the side of the road (fell off the back of a merchant's caravan), do I get experience for it? Clearly the answer is 'no.' There was no danger. There was no trial. There was no test of the character's skills. But what about the party that avoids the dragon to lift a few choice items from its hoard? What about using diplomacy or trickery to get the orcs to leave their lair unguarded? What about a thief who spends a few days playing the crowd?

The problem with XP for GP is there's no clearly defined line when it comes to assigning the bonus. And I've been all over the 'net looking for justification or explanation; it seems the task is too difficult for people, so most of them just drop it.

If you're looking for no grey areas, play Chess. Or better yet, Go, as Go never ends in a draw (as so many Chess games do)

An RPG is a reflection of the real world, and just like the real world, there are grey areas. And the only way to deal with grey areas, whether in the rules, or in the real world, is to draw on your life experience and good judgement, and make a call.

The problem Ozymandias sees with XP for GP simply isn't a problem - the DM looks at the situation, and makes a call.

Remember that even in the most artificial and restrictive RPG ruleset imaginable, the *bulk* of the game still comes down to simple DM fiat at the end of the day (Why did that chest fall off the caravan? Was there a way to avoid the dragon? How many GP in that horde? Are the orcs willing to talk? How many orcs are there? Is the King a nice guy? Is the Vizier banging the Queen?).

The point is, *everything in the game* lacks a clearly defined line. How many orcs is too many? How many HD for the dragon are too many? How much treasure is too much? Why is the King *this* nice, and not nicer? Why is the Vizier risking everything to be with the Queen?

You can lay down endless guidelines for all of this stuff (and people try, I seem to recall 4e dictating not only how tough the monsters should be but also how many magic items the players should be getting!!!), but you can *never* get away from the fact that the DM is making the world, running the world, and that the DM is a human being, and therefore necessarily fuzzy, fallible, and not really designed for clearly defined lines.

I mean, you can ask that question about anything in an RPG. So you get XP for killing monsters. Do you get XP for killing a beggar? Maybe? What about a child? What about the blacksmith - he could defend himself. What about an orc if you're a level 10 character? The orc is certainly no more threat than a child is to a Level 2 Fighter. Where do you draw the line?

And please, don't suggest that the rulebook covers it. The rulebook can *never* clear up all of the soft edges. It can never leave a clearly defined line. There will always be grey.

And that's why we play RPGs - for the grey. For the fuzziness. For the *realness* that can only come from dealing with another human being and all the vast complexities of their mind.

That lack of a clear line isn't a flaw, it's the *whole reason RPGs exist*.

4 comments:

  1. My apologies, but I cannot accept that. I mean... yes, I understand that the DM must play improv during a session. What I'm looking to avoid is the inevitable bias that creeps into everything we do. I want a solid understanding of my left and right limits (regarding experience acquisition) so that I don't unfairly impact the game. I can do this with combat XP by using Tao's system; damage dealt in combat = experience at a constant ratio. The same can be said for gold. GP = XP at a 1:1 ratio. But what about those grey areas? Is there anything that can be done to push them back so that they don't show up too often?

    ReplyDelete
  2. "What I'm looking to avoid is the inevitable bias that creeps into everything we do."

    You can't legislate against the DM being a jerk, if that's what you mean. It seems to be a popular (and utterly nonsensical) theme that *we need rules to reign in the DM*. That's a fools errand - it simply can't be done.

    "I can do this with combat XP by using Tao's system; damage dealt in combat = experience at a constant ratio. "

    That's not what his system is, but I assume you're simplifying. I personally think his system is pretty brilliant.

    I think you would find, though, that there are grey areas there, too. I, for instance, would not award full XP under that system for players that were "grinding" (i.e. killing the same easy foe again and again in order to level up). I would wager that Alexis wouldn't, either, although I'm not sure. You don't actually get much XP for dealing damage in his system (mostly for taking damage), so that would be inefficient, in any case.

    But would you award XP to characters who hurt each other in mock combat (but real wounds) as a way of grinding? I would award nothing. Another DM might award half. Another might award some for a while, and then taper it off.

    The point is, *no matter the system*, there are always grey areas.

    " Is there anything that can be done to push them back so that they don't show up too often?"

    Trying is a waste of time. They will always be there.

    The solution is to *trust the players and the GM to be mature human beings*.

    You can't make rules to prevent someone from being a jerk. All you can do is not play with them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. To a certain extent Ozymandias you have answered you own question in the act of asking the question (at least in my mind).

    "Clearly the answer is 'no.' There was no danger. There was no trial. There was no test of the character's skills. But what about the party that avoids the dragon to lift a few choice items from its hoard? What about using diplomacy or trickery to get the orcs to leave their lair unguarded? What about a thief who spends a few days playing the crowd?"

    In all of these examples there is a use of skill or at the very least a well thought out plan aside from coming across coins that fell off a turnip truck (as an example).

    In my DMing mind each of the above examples would be considered 'xp-able' moments for a gold=xp system to kick in. My rational, is that the players are the active agent of change in all of these scenarios and they are legitimate challenges. They are not passively letting the DM hand them wealth, they are seeking it and making it happen. And it sounds like that is the mind set that you have too. So, let that be your guideline. But at the same time, respect that other people have different guides. With any game you are participating in I would hope you would be able to talk with the DM about where they see their line visa vie where your is to help guide you. But, to state that if my character concept is a pick pocket and the DM would not give me any xp for working a town while there is down time, that would not mean that I wouldn't engage in action either.

    My 'preferred' system is Chaosium's BRP, in which instead of class abilities everyone has a percentile for skills that improve at the end of each adventure if used. However, they have to be used 'in moments where there are legitimate consequences for failure'. That has been a wonderful sentence to help me adjudicate circumstances.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I use a simple metric for treasure XP. Any treasure you find while on an adventure, whether in a dungeon or in the wilderness, gets you XP. Any treasure earned through jobs, or running a business or barony do not.

    So if you find the chest on the side of a road running through a monster infested forest you get XP. If you find it on the side of a well patrolled, totally civilized road. No XP. Whether there was any risk or challenge associated with that particular treasure is irrelevant.

    XP for damage done or taken would encourage the PCs to slaughter every single monster they come across. That's something I'd rather not encourage.

    ReplyDelete