It’s All About The XP

by mshrm

I’m trying to suppress my instincts, and be a lot more free with the experience points than I have in the past.

Ever since I ran 3rd Edition AD&D and realized the party had gone up something like ten levels over the course of two weeks, game time, I’ve tried to pay attention to the speed of character growth. In more realistic games, with 150 point starting characters, I tend to hand out a minimal point or two per session. Even in the 1200 point supers game, I was handing out around 5 points a session. I figured, supers tend to be pretty stable over time, but if I tried to hand out less than 1/1000th of the starting point total, I’d get cut.

It’s a rough crowd.

So here I find myself, throwing around 10 point awards like they’re normal. Sure, I only hand out XP when they return to town, so it’s pretty normal for them to average closer to 5 per session, but that’s still more than I’ve handed out in the past, both as a percentage of starting points and as gross points-per-payday.

By my math, the Space Cowboys game, at 1 point per session for 150 point characters, had a standard award of 0.66% of starting points. I thought that was bad, but the Supers 1200 game was even worse, returning only 0.42%. The 500 point street-level supers game might have been my most generous, since I seem to have averaged 4 points per session, for a return of 0.8%. “Most generous”, that is, up until the Dungeon Fantasy game. Even at 5 points per session, with 250 point starting characters, we’re talking about a whopping 2% return!

Like I’ve said before, I’m aiming to simulate an idealized version of the dungeon crawl from 1984. Now, truth be told, I don’t recall a single instance of one of my characters going up a level through the entire decade. I don’t think any of my D&D characters ever received any XP, strictly speaking. I remember a lot of characters started off at 5th level, or 10th. We were kids, we didn’t have the attention span to run what you’d call a real campaign. (Though we did come pretty close, in high school, using the Marvel FASERIP system: folks played the same characters for more than one session, and Karma was awarded. I think I might even had once upgraded a character in play. Bought a skill. One of the five styles of martial arts, as I recall.  All the prices were super-steep. I think I might have been the only one in the group who stuck with a character long enough to think about doing such a thing.)

But in the ideal game, characters would grow and expand over time. They start off scrubs, then grow into competent adventurers. (We skip over this stage for DF. It’s boring whacking rats, and it’s no fun playing the apprentice wizard with only one good spell a day in ‘im. We assume our PCs are the kind that went out and found a nest of giant ants, then flooded it. Cha-ching! Third level, baby!) As adventurers, they wander around doing their murder-hobo thing, kicking in doors and gathering wealth. They gather gangs of followers. In time, they rack up so much wealth, kick in so many doors, and gather so many cultists-er-troops-er-henchmen *cough*cough* that they become a hassle for the local authorities. At that point, they’re invited to go subdue some wilderness and build a castle, at which time, they become murder-landowners, rather than -hobos, and start building up the castles and dungeons and towers that will become the ruins for the next generation of murder-hobos to explore.

I don’t know that I want to swear that we’ll play it to the natural endgame, but I do want there to be a sense of growth and increase in power. Realistically, that means I need to throw the points at ’em. We play once a month. (Pardon me while I go cry in the corner for a moment. I’d love to play more often, but adult life is what it is.  We’ve got one night-owl, two early-birds, and one guy who routinely works around the clock. I’m thrilled if we go a whole session without someone falling out from pure fatigue.) Historically, the campaigns I run tend to hit their peak at around the 12th session. What with the flexibility of GURPS, it’s really easy to give in to restlessness and switch genres.

Now, I think this campaign is going strong. Here we are, 2/3 of the way to what experience says is supposed to be the final game, and it feels like everybody’s just now finally settling in to their characters. Folks are planning ahead, interest is high, and there’s plenty more dungeon to explore. But, still, I have to figure, that’s the likely size of the canvas, so it’s best to paint a picture that’ll fit on it. If there’s room for more when we’re done, we’ll paint more then.

I think it’s working out. We’ve had a few people pick up multi-class lenses in play. That feels like gaining a level or two.

Here’s the scoreboard, as it stands after session #8, with everybody having just received a 10 point award (and TKotBO picked up an extra Cool Point on top of that):

  • Alric Redbeard — 280 point Barbarian (working towards Barbarian/Swashbuckler, a prospect which shakes me to my core, and oh my goodness you should have seen the look of unholy glee in the player’s eyes when he laid the news on me), 18 unspent points
  • Gabby The Cabin Girl — 255 point Swashbuckler (currently at 235 effective points, thanks to her shiny new One Arm disad, until the bones in her arm grow back), 24 unspent points!! What?!?
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker — 271 point Bard/Wizard, 10 unspent points
  • Needles — 282 point Thief/Swashbuckler, 12 unspent points
  • The Knight of the Blood Oath — 291 point Holy Warrior/Knight (only short the formality of choosing some combat skills), 6 unspent points

Folks have gotten away with paying less than 50 points for their multi-classing lenses thanks to overlapping traits. Jed really made out on the deal the best, I think, since he was designed as a Bard to cover a Wizard position. TKotBO probably climbed the steepest hill, what with having to buy Combat Reflexes in play — first time, I think, that I’ve ever seen that happen.

Alric is saving up to become the world’s tallest Musketeer, so I understand his unspent point total (even though, I allow lenses to be purchased bit by bit)… but I couldn’t tell you what’s going on with Gabby. With a reserve like that, I half-suspect it’s a waste of time for her to look for magical healing for her crippled arm. She should just talk me into allowing her to buy Extra Arm twice, and grow two new ones.  “Oh, those?  Curse. You want a story, you should ask about the horns and tail…”

Hmm.  Come to think of it, “critical failure with a Regeneration spell” is actually a better explanation than “Curse”…