The root of all evil: This is part of series of five posts concerning how we handle rewards, wealth, money and equipment in the game. The other posts are on Wealth and Economics, the Cost of Living, Making Magic Items, and Treasure. You can read them in any order, but you might want to read them all before commenting.
I’ve used my own way of assigning Experience Points (XP) since the early days of third edition. I always thought the advancement rate was too quick, and I didn’t want characters to accelerate to high levels too quickly… not when there were so many low levels to enjoy. Suffice to say I think it’s time to make use of the written rules in this area, and take advantage of the many options that the Pathfinder game provides.
How XP works in Pathfinder
Back in third edition every monster was assigned a Challenge Rating (CR) value. You compared the challenge rating to the average party level on a table, and that told you how much XP the encounter was worth. That’s not quite the way things are done in Pathfinder. Monsters, traps and hazards still have Challenge Ratings, but they are there to help a GM balance the encounter, and to indicate the absolute XP value of the challenge. This XP is then split between party members who defeat or overcome the elements. Like third edition, it’s not all about killing monsters. Avoiding a combat with clever decisions or good roleplaying is just as effective at earning XP.
The rate of advancement through the levels is actually controlled by the Experience Point Table. The GM chooses a slow, medium or fast progression for the PCs, and they accrue experience points normally. It’s not a revolutionary idea, but it is a welcome one and helps to customise the game.
Experience points aren’t just given for killing monsters. There are also guidelines for non-combat encounters and story awards as well. Roleplaying encounters should only award experience points if there are adverse consequences for failure. If this is the case then I should be awarding XP equal to Average combat encounter (or a little more or less if the non-combat encounter is really hard). I can also include story-goal awards. These should be equal to twice the average combat encounter… or more if it’s a major plot point.
Conversion from the House Rules
At the moment, I use my own experience table that uses different values between the levels. These house rules still have a slow, medium or fast progression variants. It won’t surprise you to learn that the Chosen of Narramac are on the Slow Progression table, but the characters in the Prophet and Loss campaign are on a medium speed progression. How will this change when I move characters over to the Pathfinder XP tables? Glad you asked.
First of all, I’m moving all characters over to the Medium XP progression. I will leave you to wonder over the reasons behind this sudden burst of generosity. Now we have the decided on which XP table to use, we have to make sure we fairly and proportionately convert characters across.
Let’s take our dear friend Elias as an example. At the end of session 115 of the League of Light campaign he was 20th level with 114,873 experience points. Under the house rule XP table the group is using there’s only 6000 XP between levels. Level 20 starts at 114,000 XP and level 21 is at 120,000. Therefore when converting Elias, he should have enough experience points to put him at 20th level and eight-hundred and seventy-three six-thousandths (873/6000) of his way to 21st level.
Pathfinder’s medium-rate experience table says that characters need 3,600,000 for 20th level. There is no 21st level on the table but there are guidelines. This is what they say: “To gain a level beyond 20th, a character must double the experience points needed to achieve the previous level. Thus, assuming the medium XP progression, a 20th-level character needs 2,100,000 XP to become 21st level, since he needed 1,050,000 XP to reach 20th level from 19th. He’d then need 4,200,000 XP to reach 22nd level, 8,400,000 XP to reach 23rd, and so on.”
So Elias is 873/6000 of his way through the 2,100,000 XP he needs to reach 21st level. That’s 305,550 XP. Therefore Elias’s current XP total as of session 115 is 3,600,000 + 305,550 OR 3,905,550 XP. As for the other PCs: Brack is 18th level with 1,937,500 XP; Arvan is 18th level with 2,066,125 XP; Nicos is 19th level with 2,806,900 XP; Ravenna is 19th level with 3,068525 XP; and Raza is 19th level with 3,468,050 XP.
And no, I haven’t worked out the XP for session 116 yet.
Looking at the XP levels for characters from the Prophet and Loss campaign: Durral is 5th level with 15,165 XP; Hector is 3rd level with 6733 XP; Jumah is 5th level with 18,757 XP; Montes is 5th level 18,736 XP; and Talon is 4th level with 14,846 XP.
Looking at those figures, it is apparent that there is some serious disparity between the high-level PCs (not so much at lower levels). It’s this way not just because of overall attendance at the game, but also when you attend. Missing sessions while your characters are a higher level means you miss a greater amount of XP. Daniel missed the last retreat, Steve missed the one before. They’ve got the same number of sessions under their belts, but Nicos has more XP than Arvan simply because the average party level was higher when he earned it.
My question to you is what you want me to do about this (if anything)? Do you want me to try and equalise the character’s experience points so they are all much closer to one another? Elias has nearly twice as much XP as Arvan, and although Marc’s attended more sessions it’s not that many more. I put this to Marc a few days ago, as he doesn’t often post his opinions to the blog. He thought that this was a non-issue, and before you rub your chin sagely and think that Marc may not be seeing this matter very clearly, read through his opinion. I don’t entirely disagree with him:
Experience points are relative. Although there is a ridiculous gulf in XP between the party members, everyone is going to be getting significantly more XP per session at higher levels. Even though Elias is so far ahead in XP, he won’t earn enough XP to reach 21st level before everyone else (even Brack and Arvan) are 20th level. So everyone else will catch up before Elias levels again. There is also very little different in power levels between 18th and 20th level – especially when Elias is so incredibly multiclassed that he hasn’t reach the capstone ability of any of his classes.
What I will add is that you have to consider the amount of XP I’m going to be giving away from now on. As I said, I haven’t worked out the XP from session 116 yet. But you earned a lot of XP from that session. The fight with the Jabberwock and Cezallatānshe alone was worth 2,457,600 XP split between the party. You also got the Vikallians and the ELVES involved in the war which were enormous story goals. Basically, that one session already pushed you much closer together level-wise.
Experience and Encounters in the New Deal
Like most GMs my games are a mixture of carefully planned encounters, and encounters that I’m making up as I go along. Using CR as a way of judging the threats PCs face is very helpful guide to improvisation, and the more detailed rules for combat construction work pretty well too. I just haven’t used them as often as I should have done.
I will point out that Iourn remains a living, breathing world. Just because your characters are 5th level doesn’t mean that every challenge you encounter will be 5th level. You might still get mugged by a bunch of 1st level thugs, or you might encounter a beastie that will eat you up and spit you out without blinking. All potential encounters will not be balanced to your level: the world doesn’t work that way.
With that in mind, here is a summary of how I’ll be calculating XP from now on:
Overcoming Challenges: If the PCs defeat enemies in combat, prevail over physical obstacles or traps, or cleverly overcome their problems without combat then they are awarded XP equal to the CR of the challenge. This experience is divided equally between all PCs that participated in the challenge. So if only three members of a party of four participate in an encounter then the missing PC doesn’t get the XP. Characters gain no XP from defeating a challenge equal to or less than their Average Party Level -10.
Roleplaying Encounters: Experience is only awarded for a roleplaying encounter if four of the following five things are true: there are negative consequences if events in the scene go against the PCs; if the encounter pushes the party toward a definable goal; if most of the players make noteworthy contributions; if the PCs take an active role in the scene and aren’t just listening to the GM; if all the players are attentive and entertained. If most of that is true, then XP is awarded in the same manner as a combat encounter. Roleplaying encounters are assumed to have a CR equal to the average party level, althouh the GM can change that.
Story Goals: Specific goals within an adventure can be assigned an XP award, usually equal to twice the XP of a CR equal to the average party level. That means the average story award for a 19th level party is 204,800 XP, but this award may be more or less depending on the significance of the goal. Saving the world from demons would merit more XP, finding granny’s teeth down the back of the sofa would merit less.
This is all fairly straight forward, but it’s worth me pointing out what this system doesn’t do. There’s no individual XP awards for players (unless you tackle a challenge on your lonesome). I used to offer XP for roleplaying, using class abilities and having good ideas. All that is gone now in favour of the above. I’m happy to move on, but you should be aware of what we’re leaving behind.