XP Rewards / Other Rewards
In RPGs, how do characters get more power, spells, better skills? Usually by level advancement.
People act on what they are rewarded and punished for. In game, they will make decisions to maximize reward and minimize punishment.
Rewards usually revolve ultimately around:
- Gaining XP: Defeating monsters, finding treasures, completing quests and adventures.
- Getting Magic Items or Other unique items: Getting magic and unique items to help build their character out.
XP is doled out for Defeating Monsters (killing, out smarting, getting around etc.) with most parties defaulting to killing monsters if they can. The more powerful a monster is (either HD or special features), the higher the XP. Finding treasure (1 GP = 1 XP) is another though there are variations on how to count: counting everything that you find, counting only what you can carry back, counting only what you spend or donate out. Challenging adventures or quests can also result in more XP upon successful completion.
There are other reasons to give out XP as well. Some give out XP for players showing up and participating in gaming sessions. You can also dole out XP for strong character performance in role playing (eg. doing what character would do in a situation vs. doing what’s best or what you as player would do) or extra-ordinary actions (eg. saving another character). Good party collaboration or creative problem solving to a challenge can also merit extra XP for the group.
There are also other ways to reward the party members in between levels. In OSR games, the level progression can slow way down after like level 4. In 5E, the level progression looks to be a bit faster. Other rewards can be magic items – especially for magic users. Rings, scrolls, staves are all nice items for the party to find to power up their mage. Magic weapons and armor can help fighter types in improving their attack bonus and defense. I like giving out unique items from different modules vs. the core book to make the item more unique and custom. You can also allow the party to find/quest for special ingredients in assisting an artifice to help craft them custom magic items, potions, or spell scrolls. Parties can also acquire other things like hirelings, followers, mounts, or transports (eg. boats, sleds, wagons). In a recent game, the characters started forming their own cults and have NPC followers which they can bring along for the adventure to round out the party classes and skills. NPC followers are low level 1 type classes. As we use hero / fate / luck points in our game, I will also hand out these bonus points after a particularly heroic incident or session.
XP Tracking / Milestone Advancements
XP tracking in game is a pain. I have built a spreadsheet to track things live during game as the party defeats monsters and finds treasure. You can also designate a scribe in the party to write down the same info and then calculate it at the end of the game session that nite. This is the most accurate way to track XP for a session. I have also used Milestone advancements which some people are not a fan of. It does make things easier for the DM. In early levels like 0-3, I would advance the party after every 2-3 adventure modules. Each adventure would take about 3 game sessions. More recently, I’ve been assigning XP to each adventure module based on length, difficulty, and other factors mentioned above. For example, each character would get like 1,000 XP for easy adventures or 3,000 XP each for more difficult ones. This seems to be working out ok as they advance into higher levels coupled with getting magic items and other rewards to keep the game interesting.
Optimal Gaming levels for Fun and Balance
It feels like there are certain levels where you can have the most fun. Players have enough HP that they won’t die in a random encounter or trap, but there is still the threat of death in combat with regular monsters vs. several boss type monsters. They have some magic items and enough attack bonuses and skills to be more successful at checks and tasks. I find this to be around Levels 4-7 range. It is before characters become so powerful that they can start building strongholds and attracting followers or apprentices, but they are still low level enough to be adventuring and not die in first combat. I’ve played in some games where we started at level 2 or 3 in the beginning of the campaign so we would have some HP and basic skills. Adventures can be interesting vs. grinders to get enough XP to level up. I’m not a fan of grinder type of adventures which some OSR dungeon crawl adventures seem to be.
Why Else do people want to play?
There are many reasons why people play RPGs. Temporary escape from the real world, getting to hang out with friends, exercise the imagination, be someone totally different than themselves. Those things can be enough reward by itself. I like to think the experiences that they create with each other, experiencing the adventure, and creating fun memories are important reasons to play. Everyone has favorite modules or adventures that they went through. These are adventures they would replay again because they are so fun. I personally enjoy like X2 Castle Amber or Shadows over Yog-Sothoth and would play those modules again just because they are so much fun to experience. I would love to play like the top 30 AD&D modules just to experience all of them. Wouldn’t care about the character leveling up or anything.