Tuesday, March 13, 2012

More on Unified XP tables.

In an earlier post I began discussing class balance, unified xp tables, and the reasons for and against bonus XP for high prime requisite scores.  In this post I'd like to take some time to discuss the pros and cons of the use of individual xp tables for each class.  Most old school gamers like the old individual xp charts, and I certainly don't mind them, but I think that there are some valid reasons for not using them.

I like the old charts because they add a certain flavor to the game.  With every class having a different chart, the players are each carefully tracking their xp, anxiously awaiting their next level.  Leveling becomes an individual goal, not a group goal.  An argument that is often made in favor of individual xp charts is that it allows you to have unbalanced classes within the game, or in other words you can balance a class by making it more or less expensive to level.  The classic example is the thief.  It can't wear good armor or use a variety of weapons, and gets no spells.  The thief's attack tables and HPs are also inferior to all but the Magic-User.  It does have a access to thief skills, but these hardly make up for all of the other disadvantages the thief suffers from.  Thus the thief levels faster than any other class in the game. 

Another aspect of the individual XP charts that should not be overlooked is something that goes beyond class balance.  You could call it feel, or difficulty, but it's easier to just explain.  Of the base classes Magic-Users require the most xp to level (at least at the lower levels).  Why?  Because being a wizard is damn tough.  Not just anyone can be a wizard.  It takes a lot of dedication.  Most would say that Magic-Users are underpowered at low levels, particularly when xp cost/level is considered.  But they are designed that way for a reason.  Not everyone should play a M-U, and not every M-U that is rolled is going to survive the early levels. In contrast, Clerics level a little more quickly than it would seem like they should, but then again they are favored by a god, and they have the thankless responsibility of keeping the party alive with healing spells.

What don't I like about the individual xp charts?  Despite everything I just said, I find them to be wildly arbitrary.  Just how much xp per level is a d8 instead of a d6 for hit dice worth?  Or a better saving throw?   Sure people have tried to create class construction engines (such as in the 2E DMG) but one can usually exploit these fairly easily.  If you are trying to achieve balance between classes, it seems a little harder to do it with xp.  Secondly, the more classes you have, the more charts you need.  I like classes.  I like sub-classes.  Individual xp charts aren't so bad when you have 3 or 4 classes, but what about 15?  or 40? (Don't laugh.  Look at all of the new classes in the non-core 1e books like UA or OA.  Then add in the NPC classes presented in the Dragon.).  Charts take up space in the rules and you have to look them up.  Minor gripes, but still a negative.

This all leads to a unified xp chart.  First, it fixes most of the problems I have with the use of individual charts.  As a designer and a GM I like a unified leveling system because that is what I am used to working with.  Most RPGs use this sort of system, even if they use a totally different sort of advancement system (FWIW, the MMOs I have worked on and played have also used this system for the most part).  I think it is more easy to balance classes with this system, as you can make direct comparisons between the 2 classes.  Obviously they are never going to be completely balanced, but a unified xp table gives you a good starting point, and a frame of reference.

For me, the most important aspect of using a unified leveling system is that it allows the group to completely do away with xp as a whole.  If everyone earns the same xp per session, and they all use the same xp chart, they will all level at the same time.  That being the case, the GM or the group can decide when the PCs level whenever they wish.  No need for the GM to calculate xp.  No need for the players to track it.  No need to figure out how much a new monster or treasure is worth.  I have both run and played in games like this before, and it has worked wonderfully, with the right group.  Not every group is going to like this system, but I think you could say that about any rule. The major problem comes when you have character deaths, or characters/players that are not present for certain sessions.  In this case, you can keep track of the sessions played, and level those characters when they have played an appropriate # of sessions.  It isn't an exact science, but that's the point.

Now as some have pointed out, some problems arise when you get rid of xp.  Specifically how does one reward individual play.  In a future post, I'll explain a few ideas for simple fate/karma system that not only rewards individuals for excellent play, but livens up the game for the whole group.


  1. If the group levels as a whole, what happens when a PC dies? I like to start everyone out at 0 XP. I guess you could bump the replacement PC at the same time, but then they are always going to be behind. I like the pseudo-exponential progression of the normal XP charts because they mean that by the time the old PCs gain a level the new PC will be at level N - 1.

    In terms of different progression tables, you really only need a few. B/X has essentially 5:

    - Fastest: thief
    - Fast: cleric
    - Average: fighter
    - Slow: magic-user
    - Slowest: elf

    When creating a new class, you can just pick one of those advancement charts.

    I don't actually have any issue with a unified progression chart though (it works much better for multiclassing too).

  2. The character death issue can raise a problem, as will any time a character is added to the game. I still think a system like this works just fine, but after hearing your suggestions and others, I've decided to work on another alternate xp system. It boils down to the fact that I don't want to have to track xp from monsters killed and treasure found. Most other games have a much more fluid xp system, and I'd like to try that with D&D.

  3. I think this could still work with a simple XP system, as long as you don't design it around entire party advancement. Something like one XP gained for surviving a session, plus one XP per goal attained (player determined or plot point, depending on the type of game being run). Level progression could be something like 10, 25, 45, 70, etc (in other word 10 XP required to attain level 2, 15 more XP required to attain level 3, 20 more XP required to attain level 4). This stays simple but also slows progression somewhat as levels increase, and there is no need to track treasure or monster XP.