Experience is a Strange Teacher

I’m finding a lot of inspiration these days from reading other blogs. I hadn’t realized how much I’d really missed reading some of the other great blogs out there until I came back. So I read a great article today at Fear of a Geek Planet about how XP are a serious problem.

I pretty much agree with everything he says – I’ve been chasing my tail about XP for a long time and I feel pretty strongly that some genres just have no place (or a very limited place) for advancement mechanics at all (like superhero games). The poster mentions the “tick a skill” style of advancement in BRP, which I’ve always been a fan of. It’s been pointed out to me the weird lengths that some players will go to in order to subvert that system and make it work for them in warped ways.

But I’m coming to a bit of a re-imagining in my gaming journey. Having started playing Adventurer Conqueror King (a really, really excellent game) which is built around a core of the old school D&D experience, I’ve started to remember some of the genuine joy I derived from those old games. And experience points are an interesting part of that.

I’d forgotten, playing 3rd ed, 4th ed, and Pathfinder, how much fun it is to have PCs leveling at different rates. My party right now has a 1st level fighter, a 2nd level wizard, and a thief and bladedancer (cleric variant) at 3rd level and it’s working out great. Their henchmen are also at different levels and their adventures are shaped somewhat (in a good way, in my opinion) by the oddity of having characters of different levels in the party.

It’s time for me to admit. In the games of my childhood, we didn’t understand XP for gold so we just didn’t do it. We basically did, “level when the GM says so.” That worked for us at 11 and 12 years old because we just wanted to be ridiculous and fight goblins and shit.

I’m also somewhat fascinated by the ways different DMs treat and deal with XP and leveling. Some give XP on a rolling basis, some only at the end of the session – heck – there are probably as many ways of doing this as there are games. I love running Amber Diceless RPG and in that game you only do advancement at the end of story arcs and the player has no idea how many XP they actually earned… which is one of the coolest things ever. As a long-time Amber person, on both sides of the screen, I can’t explain how much fun this part of the game has been. You just have to experience it (Jesus, no pun intended).

Ultimately, I guess my point is, I’m completely in… treating XP as a purely mechanical bit that acts as the carrot to go with the stick of, you know, playing the game (insert eye roll here) then it is just an awkward, buckled-on bit of awful paperwork. But when it can actually shape interesting play bits then I find that I enjoy the way XP works in the tapestry of the rules.

Thanks for reading.

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One response

  1. […] (The Rhetorical Gamer) Experience is a Strange Teacher – “I’d forgotten, playing 3rd ed, 4th ed, and Pathfinder, how much fun it is to have […]

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