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Alternative Experience Awards and Advancement

(I started thinking about this as a way to make XP awards in 5e come from all three “Pillars of Adventure” rather than just combat, but the system might work well in old-school games too.)

From a game design perspective, how do I want character advancement to work?

First, make a list of character actions to reward. Here’s my list:

Second, tell the players. Solicit their feedback. Agree on which activities will earn experience. Does the list include at least a few things each player finds fun?

Third, decide how quickly to advance characters. How many instances of the rewarded actions does the party need to rack up before the characters gain a level? My players probably do 6–8 of those things each session, so I’ll set the advancement target at twenty. Most of the characters will gain a level every three-ish sessions (3 × 7 = 21).

Can we do this with minimal bookkeeping and without breaking player-facing by-the-book XP? Yes, with some one-time prep.

After averaging the XP requirements for the core classes from Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry, I divided those per-level XP requirements by our “twenty things”. The result is the chunk of experience points to award for each desirable thing the characters do. At the end of a session, tally the number of fun things, multiply by the “XP award packet size”, and have each player add that to their character’s XP total. The players continue to use the advancement table from the book for their character class.

Level Avg. XP To Next Lvl Size of XP Awards (20 as divisor)
1 0 1824 91
2 1824 1824 91
3 3648 3649 182
4 7297 7300 365
5 14594 13969 698
6 28563 26062 1303
7 54625 48250 2412
8 102875 87875 4393
9 190750 98000 4900
10 288750 110000 5500
11 398750 111250 5562
12 510000 111250 5562
13 621250 111250 5562
14 732500 111250 5562
15 843750 111250 5562
16 955000 111250 5562
17 1066250 111250 5562
18 1177500 111250 5562
19 1288750 111250 5562
20 1400000 111250 5562

So, for example, if a party of first-level characters wins four combats, finds and unguarded treasure, and negotiates an alliance with bandits, that’s six fun things in the session. 6 × 91 = 546 XP awarded to each character.

To monkey with the speed of advancement, tweak the number-of-things divisor by level to change the size of each XP award chunk. For example, to get quick early advancement, then progressively slower advancement:

Level To Next Lvl Divisor Size of XP Award
1 1824 12 152
2 1824 12 152
3 3649 12 304
4 7300 24 304
5 13969 24 582
6 26062 24 1085
7 48250 24 2010
8 87875 24 3661
9 98000 24 4083
10 110000 24 4583
11+ 111250 36 3090

Does this system ignore a few things? Sure. I decided to not care about the number of player characters in the party, for one. Sharing XP with henchmen is another. I give each henchman a half-share of XP in addition to that awarded to the player characters. Charisma already puts a cap on the number of henchmen a PC can attract, and we want to encourage henchmen in our old-school games, right?

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