DnD5e XP option

If you understood the code in that title, you’re a nerd.  And that’s okay, nerds are “in” these days.  No more hiding in our parents’ basements (at least not for most of us…)

Anyway, thought I’d post my latest take on dishing out experience for player characters in the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, “the world’s greatest role playing game.”

(BTW, if you want to see more of this stuff, check out my Fifth Edition Creative Companion on the DM’s Guild — it’s pay what you want, so if you want to pay zero, you can.)

female elf with a bow in the forest

EXPERIENCE POINTS AND LEVELING

This is the biggest change I’ve brought to my personal house rules for Fifth Edition D&D.

I’ve always had issues with the traditional Experience Point (XP) system.  It seems to me that it’s pretty much kill-monster-based and collect-gold-based.  If these are the only factors that matter in gaining levels, then they become the only things that matter to the characters.  Any other storytelling or character interaction is irrelevant.  Why bother with that crap when it doesn’t do anything to help me become a greater hero?

I do like that this Fifth Edition emphasizes three aspects of game play: not just combat (which we all enjoy), but also character interaction and exploration.  If there are three aspects to our fantasy adventures, then all three should count toward advancing our heroes through their careers.

Now, there is a way to figure out non-combat XPs in Fifth Edition by calculating encounter difficulty along with the angle of moonlight and alignment of the North Star, etc.  I’m being a tad sarcastic, obviously.  The way they’ve outlined it isn’t a terrible system, but it’s pretty tedious and math-heavy.  More so than I care to deal with.  I want less math and more story.  So here’s what I’ve come up with.

XP is measured in Blocks, acquired by completing Story Objectives. 

If one of your story objectives is to defeat the band of hobgoblin bandits that have been robbing caravans passing through this area, then yes, you get an XP Block by killing all the hobgoblins.  Or at least beating them down and chasing them off, never to return (hopefully).

But your Story Objectives might also include finding a missing person, discovering the identity of a killer, brokering peace between two political factions in a war-torn city, or bringing home a specific item from the long lost ruins of an ancient king’s hidden treasure hold.  These move the story along through use of exploration and character interaction, as well as potentially using the more exciting dice-rolling action of combat.  And they advance your characters and shape your unique world.

Story Objectives might be accomplished each gaming session, or they might take several.  Conversely, you might achieve more than one in a single session, even a single encounter.  Maybe discovering the killer’s identity and bringing him (or her) to justice are two separate objectives laid out by the DM, and after two sessions of tracking and investigation, you pull off both in the evening’s climax encounter.  In that case, BAM! you get two blocks in one fell swoop.

Subplots could also contribute as a character-driven experience.  Let’s say you own a tavern and it mysteriously burns to the ground.  Rather than continue on the main course set up by the DM last adventure, you decide to investigate the fire further.  Instead of chasing the next planned adventure, you go off on a tangent important to your characters.  This is a story in and of itself, and certainly worth some XP.

Other subplots could include investigating the murder of a PC’s parents, suddenly noticing the significance of a trinket, or pursuing a love interest or political office.  All of these character-based story lines can become adventures in and of themselves.

So what is an XP Block?

I call them XP Blocks because the easiest way to track them and chart out level advancement is with our old friend Mr. Graph Paper.  I have come up with two simple formulas for Level Advancement, but I’m only going to talk about one in this blog post, which I recently developed after using the first for a while.

(You can see the other one in my Fifth Edition Creative Companion if you really want to know, but I think this one is the better of the two.)

Leveling Up: The Proficiency Method

Each level is accomplished by achieving a certain number of XP Blocks, just like it is with normal XPs.

The requisite number of Blocks to advance to the next level is equal to your current Proficiency Bonus.

Therefore:

Levels XP Blocks to Level Up
1-4 2
5-8 3
9-12 4
13-16 5
17-20 6

Mr. Graph Paper’s (or Mr. Excel’s) XP Tracking Chart, then, might look like this:

XP TRACKER 1   2   3   4   5     6     7    
Bobfreid the Druid

So the further up you go, the longer it takes to advance, but not so much that you never get to level up.  DMs can regulate the rate by either being stingy or generous with XP Blocks and what constitutes a Story Objective.

Play Tested, Mother Approved

In actual game play, this new XP system has been working out great.  The PCs are advancing at a steady pace but not too fast.  They level up regularly but not every session.  They have to earn those levels.  And, as the DM, I only have to keep track of what is important: milestones in the story.  After all, counting dead monsters and dividing them up is accounting work that I don’t need in life.

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