Examining Experience Points, Part 2

Last time we broke down the relationship between XP (Survivor Points in Witch Hunter, but we’ll call em XP here so everyone can follow along) and Character Advancement in Witch Hunter and compared the two editions.  To recap, its a pretty big change.  Now this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Honestly I can’t remember the last time I ever questioned the XP recommendations in a game, let alone with any scrutiny.  And it isn’t as though WH is some gross offender.  It’s only after a year of playing it that I feel comfortable mucking around in the engine.  Would anyone do this for a game they weren’t enjoying?  Hell no.  Oh, they might do so to use it as a stick to beat on the game they love to hate (witness the ridiculous ongoing controversy of d4s vs d6s in Savage Worlds), but that isn’t really the intent here.  My purpose here is to fine tune the game experience for myself and my players, and in so doing fine tune Witch Hunter into the mean, lean, swashbuckling monster hunting machine it really wants to be.

At the same time, the last thing I want to do is tear the game down to build it up again.  So I’m trying to stay within the established framework as much as possible.  So I’m not going to redo advancement.  That would only serve to screw my players over or force them to completely rebuild their characters.  Dick move, toolbox GM!

So let’s focus on XP Rewards.  That seems easy enough.  Why argue the cost of the components when all we want to do is open the throttle a bit here and there?

As it stands, the core WH2 rules offer these guidelines for XP rewards:

  • You get 10 XP for successfully completing a session (foil/kill the villain, stop the apocalypse, save the town, whatever).
  • +2 XP for Good Roleplaying
  • +3 XP for Outstanding Roleplaying

So 10-15 XP Range/session.  That’s…ok I suppose.  A little vague.  Lots of wiggle room.  It also assumes that the challenge of all the adventures remains pretty consistent, which we all know never happens.  But that does give us our default; an average session should award from 10 to 15 XP.  I can work with that.

So here is my proposed revised Experience Award scheme.  To create it, I’ve borrowed a bit from 7th Sea, (New) World of Darkness (both being d10 dice pool games with roughly the same value ranges, it made sense to compare), All for One: Regime Diabolique and (gasp!  shock!) Mythus (because it’s my first love and does so many things other RPGs have since forgotten to do).  I even peeked at Shadowrun (the grandfather of dice pool games) to see if it had anything to offer…and found that it matches WoD almost note for note.  Ready?  Let’s break it down.

Witch Hunter Survivor Point Awards (Revised)
Session Difficulty Base Reward
Routine 5
Easy 10
Hard 15
Challenging 20
Epic 40
Special Conditions Reward
Good Roleplaying 1–3
Heroism/Sacrifice 1
Wisdom 1
End of an Arc/Chapter 10
OOC* (Game diary, etc) 1–2
Gratuity* (Hosting, food, drinks) 1–2
Specific Awards Reward
Ability/Tradition 10
Skill 2
True Faith** 1 point

* Alternatively, award an extra Hero Point at the beginning of the game.
** Not experience, but a full 1 point increase to True Faith.  Alternatively, award 2 banked hero points (or 0.2).

Most of this is pretty obvious.  The GM judges how difficult the session/scenario was based on expectations and how well the players did and awards those points accordingly.  Most of these should fall in the Easy or Hard range (10 or 15).  Challenging should handle any session where the players snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Epic should be reserved for the big stuff.  “Hey, great job visiting the 3rd circle of Hell and sealing that Hellpoint!  Sorry Bob and Heather lost their souls, but you guys can worry about that next time.”  That sort of thing.

If any of the players qualify for a Special Condition, the GM should award that as well.  If the session marked the end of a major plot arc or “chapter”, add 10 points to the final award.  Heroism/Sacrifice is for those times when a character gives up something important to him or her for the sake of the group (a contact, a relic, etc).  Wisdom can be awarded for clever ideas, smart deductions, and moments of unexpected brilliance (Yes, you could award a Hero Point, but that sort of gives it away, which you don’t always want to do).  OOC awards are for things like keeping extensive game notes, a play diary, maintaining the game calendar, mapping, whatever.  Gratuity awards are for things like hosting the game, bringing food or drinks.  You can alternatively award extra Hero Points, but that works better with RPGs that keep costs and awards in the single digits (like 7th Sea or Savage Worlds).  Really, these are to distinguish players who go above and beyond showing up.

Let’s talk about Specific Awards though, since I don’t see a lot of games that use these.  I love them.  It’s a way to really reward a player for something without opening the throttle too much.  If a player uses an Ability or a Skill, including a sorcerous or fighting tradition, the GM awards XP that MUST be spent on that Ability or Skill.  You could award Hero Points for this too, so keep this for something really special.  10 points towards an Ability, or a Talent in the case of a Tradition, really isn’t that much, but it can be just enough to put the player over the edge.

True Faith awards should be truly special.  As it stands, it requires 10 “banked” (my term) hero points to raise True Faith 1 point.  True Faith is used to resist lots of nasty creature abilities, so you really don’t want this going up too fast.  But that makes this reward all the more special.  The players don’t expect it, either.

But couldn’t I award Hero Points for a lot of this stuff?  Yes!  Sure!  You should!  But HP don’t apply to Character Advancement, and you don’t retain them from session to session.  My advice here is to do both. Give the player a HP that can be spent in play, but award an extra point of experience for a job well done at the end of the session.  Trust me, 1 or 2 bonus XP are not going to break the game when you are trying to save up 50 to pick up a BASIC Talent.

Now since we’ve boosted things a bit, let’s talk restrictions.  These really aren’t covered in the rules—probably because players are extremely unlikely to be able to afford to do so—but these things need to be addressed.  A player may not:

  • raise any skill more than 1 level per game session.
  • raise more than one Ability per game session.
  • add more than one Talent per game session (including Rites and Fighting Styles).

Yeah, that may suck for some players who are just stockpiling away.  But it keeps the character from leapfrogging in ability too much.  It’s not like those unspent points are going anywhere; use them next time.

So that’s what I’m going to be doing moving forward.  I figure I can always adjust as I’m going if things look like they are moving too fast.  That’s the great thing about tweaking XP Rewards over Advancement Costs.

In the third installment, I’m going to take a look at OP rewards and stick my hand into that hornet’s nest.  Until then…

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2 thoughts on “Examining Experience Points, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Examining Experience Points, Part 3 | …and a Brace of Pistols

  2. Pingback: 2015: A Retrospective | …and a Brace of Pistols

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