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*.