Friday, May 16, 2008

Are You Experienced?

Today, WotC gives us a bit of a tease on quests. It's not much, just suggestions on how to integrate them into the standard adventuring format. As usual, however, they can't resist taking a few shots at older editions of the game:

Treasure Worth = XP

Isn’t treasure supposed to be its own reward? The problem in early D&D is that it wasn’t. In fact you couldn’t do a whole lot with treasure except for accumulate it and gain XP from it. That’s right; you gained XP just for picking up a gold piece. To be fair, how much you gained was based on how much challenge the treasure’s guardian represented, but a simpler method is to place the challenge XP fully in the guardian (in 4th Edition, this means the monsters, traps, hazards, or skill challenge) and let wealth be the reward wealth is by its very nature—purchasing power.

(And that's the nice one. The section after it is the sort of thing I'm certain makes Ripper X's blood boil.)

First of all, the above quote shows a woeful lack of knowledge of the history of D&D. Yes, the equipment lists might seem a tad skimpy, and no, there were no shops to buy magical swords from. But there were many things to do with your treasure. At lower levels, you could hire henchmen to join you on your adventures and equip them with the best gear your money could buy. If you knew a long journey was in the future, you could purchase a mount (a light riding horse for a mere 25 gp all the way to a heavy warhorse for 300 gp in the 1e PHB), and you'd of course want barding to protect your mount. You'd need pack animals to carry the rest of your gear. If you needed to cross water, you could purchase boats. The cheapest, a small barge, cost 50 gp, but if you wanted to travel in style, you needed the large galley for 25,000 gp. And these numbers, of course, didn't include crew or provisions.

And then, of course, there was what James Maliszewski refers to as "the end game" of clearing wilderness and building your stronghold. By that point, you'd acquired a few followers, and while they came with gear, they still needed to be fed and it was never a bad idea to upgrade their equipment when possible. And castles, of course, don't come cheap. And this is all assuming your DM didn't enforce the rules requiring you to purchase training in order to go up a level after you'd earned the experience points.

That all said, I did know folks who stockpiled their gold, squirreling it away for a rainy day, but that was never a safe option. If you kept it in a "safe place", it could be stolen. If you kept it on you, you risked losing it all in shipwreck, or to pickpockets, or if you were ever slain or captured. The safest thing to do with your wealth was to buy things with it that were difficult to run off with or destroy. Land was a popular option, and our heroes usually bought an old, derelict farmhouse on the edge of the village or inside the town they used as their base of operations.

So the notion that players ended up with large stockpiles of wealth because there was nothing to buy after the initial equipment purchase and a few upgrades is rather silly. Yes, I played in a few games where the PCs never needed to eat, never hired henchmen, and never bought mounts or real estate or anything like that. Most of these games were either short-lived dungeon-delves or, in the case of the one campaign I played in like that, run by extremely stingy DMs who had us always on the ragged edge of bankruptcy.

Still, there usually came a time, around about what most considered the "sweet spot" of D&D, which was roughly levels 4 through 9, when the world of strongholds and followers seems distant, and the PCs are beginning to really come into their power. The need for henchmen seems less, the basic equipment has been purchased, and the primary expenses are mostly just food and cornering the market on the 100 gp pearls necessary for the identify spell. It was easy for the DM to get lazy about the players' stockpiled wealth as well; the days when lucre was necessary to motivate the PCs are long gone. They're part of the world now, with allies in need and enemies eager for revenge. Keeping the players "hungry" means something very different at levels 4 through 9 than it does at levels 1 through 3.

Still, it's rarely a good idea to allow that gold to just pool in the PC's basement. It just doesn't fit the genre. So, in my Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord hack, I'm allowing the earning of XP from gold. However, it's not gold acquired that will earn the XP, but gold spent. This will encourage the players to spend the loot their heroes win. I don't really care how they spend it, so if they just want to blow their entire share on "ale and whores", I certainly won't complain. It's what Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser would do, after all.

And no, that's not an original idea of mine. Unfortunately, I can't find where I read it first, and even if I did, I doubt that author was the originator of the idea anyway. The 'net is just awash in all these cool ideas, and I sometimes feel like a beachcomber, hoping the storms and tides throw the best treasures my way but knowing a few really choice pieces are lost to the depths.


noisms said...

The disingenuous trashing of older editions of the game is really starting to get my goat, too. That treasure/quests article was one of the most egregious examples, but it almost seems as if WotC have an internal company rule that each new 4e article has to mention, somewhere, that 3e was unbalanced and fiddly and 2e and earlier was nonsensical garbage full of idiotic rules that it's difficult to imagine any sane person playing.

I wish they'd let 4e stand on its own merits rather than have this continual backwards-referral.

Anyway, nice blog. I enjoy reading it.

Sham aka Dave said...

I like this method, as well, for awarding experience from gold. I believe Frank Mentzer popularized it in his BECMI rules, but don't quote me on that. I'm no edition authorian.

My current house rule is that gold (money in general) awards experience only after the PC's actually 'return it to town', but I think you've convinced me that 'spend it to earn it' is actually better.


Sham aka Dave said...

Meh left a typo there but you get the idea, time for some coffee!

trollsmyth said...

noisms: Thanks, and thank you for taking the time to comment. Are you the same noisms reading through the 2e MM at I love that thread, and I've linked to it at least twice that I can think of off the top of my head.

Welcome to the RPG blogosphere.

sham: Just keep in mind that this sort of thing requires a bit more effort on the part of the DM. I wasn't going to say this, but it's in part an effort to keep me honest as a DM. I have a bad habit of telling players, "Yeah, ok, just buy what you can afford, use the prices in the PHB," and not checking up on it afterwards. I doubt my players cheated, but it usually meant that I had no idea what was on their character sheets, which made it a bit more difficult to plan adventures and things like that.

- Brian

Ripper X said...

Man, why did you make me read that? LOL Arg, I've got a headache.

Now we aren't good at giving out XP? It's a wonder that players play for us!

I only award XP per Gold to rogues, and that isn't ever set in stone. It always has to be earned, but it can be anywhere from 1 XP to every 5 GP, to 1:1 depending on my own judgment call.

In my current game, I didn't want money to be an issue. Its a globe trotting game and it is necessary that they have more then enough gold to travel and eat with. It's not like I do this every campaign. For huge money dumps, I don't award experience points for that, nor for talking to everybody . . . who in the hell is that organized? I do award XP for saving NPCs, they can hold a grudge if they want to, I don't care. I'm always going to award players for doing stuff nonviolently too.

There is no magic formula for awarding XP. If there was, then it would only award the players who spend every waking moments trying to beat the mechanics of the game itself.

The linked article did make me wonder, though. If you are playing a sofa, do you still acquire hit points, or do you just have the standard 1d6 that all of the other sofas got? More importantly, why can't we play furniture races in 4e? If I can't play an elvin oak table, then you can just count me out!

noisms said...

Re: the 2nd edition MM thread - yeah, that's me. Glad you like it!

Greyhawk Grognard said...

Ummm... did they mention the fact that you needed whole mounds of treasure to pay for training to go from one level to another (in AD&D, anwyay). 1,500 g.p. per level, iirc. So your 6th level fighter is going to need a cool 10k or so just to get to 7th level. I'd say that's a good way to drain away all those g.p. out of the PC's grubby mitts...

trollsmyth said...

No, of course they didn't. Nobody played the game that way. *rolls eyes*

- Brian

Robert Fisher said...

The earliest reference I know to the “spend the gp to earn XP” idea is Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign.

I tend to look at this from a different point-of-view. The default “story” was treasure hunting. That is realized by giving XP for gp. Whether there is anything to spend that gp on is immaterial.

This is the kind of thing that makes us feel that the older editions are more modular than new games. The reward system isn't unduly tied to the shopping lists.