Sunday, July 13, 2014

XP, Levels, and Alternate Rewards

So 5th edition has the same XP problem of the previous two editions: everyone advances the same.

This has one massive benefit: you can simply have everyone level up every other game or so, and you've got a nice rate of advancement and no one is really left behind. There's no need to crunch the math at all. But there's a crucial drawback too: individual awards are gone as well as XP penalties or costs.

Now, third edition and Pathfinder might be slight exceptions: you can play a level-adjusted race and be a level or so behind the other PCs, but that's a little problematic because the benefits of being a Drow might be worth about a level at lower levels, but not higher levels. Also, item creation gets mucked up: if a wizard is going to be a level below the other PCs because he made one scroll, you better believe he ought to make a whole tone of them to get that missing levels worth.

So 5th edition gives us one alternate reward at least: inspiration. Inspiration is like action-points-lite from 4e and later third edition: advantage on a check (presumably cancelling disadvantage as well). It seems ok, but I'm not sure if its quite enough to really be a reward like bonus XP.

Planescape in 2nd Edition had Belief points in the Planewalker's Handbook. They could be spent for an auto-success on a roll (similar to advantage) and also a more story-oriented type of intuitive clue. That makes for a nice additional use of inspiration.

Another option for rewarding awesomeness at the table is to give story-based awards. In a Planescape game, for example, most characters are members of factions. Those who consistently are acting in line with their faction's goals might be up for promotions. Not every game has such factions, but you can imagine rewarding someone in a 13th Age game with bonus to Icon relationships, or using other factions or non-adventuring followers in a a more traditional D&D game (Thieves' guilds, Druidic Circles, Bardic Colleges...).

This is all very different in a non level-based game. I'm getting ready to run a Vampire game online (set in Alexandria around 360 AD). There I plan on using XP as a reward for accomplishing goals because XP simply improves your character's stats and allows you to learn new disciplines. There's no need to worry about level advancement since there is none: XP does it all. I like that. I wonder if you couldn't add an aspect of this back into D&D.

Take the Planescape factions, if you will. Or otherwise the concept of the Theme from 4e or the Prestige Class or Paragon Path. As you gain power within your factions (whether they're the formal Factions of Planescape or something more nebulous) you gain some game mechanics. You could track it with a rough system like Renown in Werewolf: 5-10 points and you've got a new level or "rank". Each rank comes with mechanical benefits, though they could be mostly story-based benefits rather than combat ones.


  1. I think I will steal the intuitive clues use of belief points for inspiration points in 5e but I don't know that I'll have it cost 3x what getting advantage does.

    If I run Planescape again I am definitely going to focus more on factions and factional politics and make sure that there will be narrative rewards for pcs who exemplify faction believes and penalties or at least inconveniences for those who are lax on their faction beliefs and duties.

    1. The Inspiration rules don't have "points" per se, so you either have it or don't. Seems 100% reasonable to allows the clue option in lieu of advantage.

      Also, if you do look at the Planescape stuff again, I might have a revised version of the races, it not more.