Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Why Using XP and Levelling is a Waste of Time

Last Fortnight I wrote about how roleplaying requires Experience Points to be allocated for understanding Levelling, as an absolute Must! While researching the blog, I came across compelling points about why Experience points systems are old hat, old school, outdated and dust.

Experience Points and Levels are Bad Design and Bad Karma.

The Number one complain against XP is the time taken to add up the numbers, since they don't mean anything anyway, why use them.

<rant On>
I'm sorry, but I'm not going to go back on my last post, if this is why you don't want to use XP, then you are a Lazy Lazy GM and you should not be in the industry, normally I would say, get out, stop GMing, and make room for more level headed GMs who know what they are doing. Unfortunately, there is a lack of decent GMs and sometimes if as a player you are stuck in a rut, and just want to get your game on, you will deal with any hack who can mash out a harry potter plot on crack, allow the crazy fumbles and criticals of a broken system to be the entertainment of the day, while munching on chips and guzzling coke.
<rant over>

There are legitimate reasons for going non XP, being lazy is not one of them.

Instance worlds and Instance Games

An instance world, is a slice of a potential reality, usually published games are instances, because someone else, somewhere else is playing a different set of heroes through the same dungeon, and we can't all be doing the same dungeon.

In an Instance game, the parameters are set, the DM & Players have come together and agreed that they are going to be the dwarves and the hobbit from Middle-Earth, or Luke, Ben, Solo and Chewie, and save the Princess. They have a pre-agreed understanding that for the next 1-3 months of their lives, they are going to replay a classic or printed adventure (or something made up for laughs) and enjoy it.

As often as not, when playing a board game or card game, we don't want to deal with all the extra stuff that takes place in reality, we just want to play and have fun. As a GM, maybe I don't want to flesh out the world, or the places that players might go. Maybe the backstory for the barwench in the tavern is not going to be relevant, If players ask, just tell them, its just a game, its not relevant.

As a result, there is no problem with levels. Just like Heroquest, Descent or Talisman, Levels are really some arbitrary number that means nothing. So why use it?

In an Instance Game, its far simpler, and makes more sense, to decide to 'get better' every 3-4 sessions, to represent the growth of the character.

Casual Sessions

Much Like the instance world, you might find yourself in a One-off game, character progression is not part of the game, you're not playing these characters again, there is no need to understand what is going on behind the scenes. 

These kinds of games can be great fun to play, and sometimes very useful to run for the advancement of your main plot. 

Maybe an old man by the fire begins to tell the story of a group of adventurers, entering the dungeons of death.. the GM passes pre-made Heroes over to the players, and they play out these characters when 'years ago' they tried to best the dungeon, and failed.

Rather than the GM Telling the story, which may not be 100% interesting to the players, the players play as the 'heroes of the story' which informs the group to some nuances of the quest their about to undertake. 

First time Trial run

As often as not, the first time players ever roleplay, the GM would create and run some kind of simplified, easy to follow structure, with as much intrigue as possible, but not so much chance of death. This ensures the players feel like they are getting the hang of things without drowning them in rules and errata, and in case some players decide that while it was fun, its not 100% for them, or that they are not so interested in devoting a few hours every week for.

The first thing you could do at the next session is to introduce them to the concept of XP vs non XP, but frankly until these players are really going to be devoted to the craft, they are not going to be interested to learn the nuance, so stick to XP-less.

So Why even have Levels?

The Logical conclusion to running an XP-less system is to get rid of the levels too. They only exist to give the players a straight forward way to assigning bonuses from character progression based on XP gained from adventures. But if you run a game where you level up every 3 sessions.. wouldn't it just be more interesting (and make far more sense) to gain 1 of the bonuses for your class, each session? plus a bonus at the end of certain quests? why 'group' them at all? (like Skyrim)

Why not assign them determined by what your character actually did?

Lets look at D&D Warrior (

between 1st and 2nd level, you gain d10 HP, +1 to Hit, +1 to Good Save & 1 Feat.

If you run your system, as 1 level up per 3 game sessions, wouldn't it be more fun/interesting to gain one of those bonuses per session, and get all remaining on the 3rd week? based on what you did in the last session?

E.g. Last Week, Symon the Warrior, took a heavy blow, was knocked unconscious and took a few blows, so the GM & Symon agree that his weekly bonus will be his d10 Health. This week Symon had to make a reflexes save a few times, so GM & Symon agree that he gains his Good Save [Ref] Next week, Symon gains both the Hit and Feat. 


At the end of the day, The players need to understand that the world is cohesive, that actions have consequences and that their characters are progressing in a fair manner. If you have player trust, you can do all the calculations behind the scenes and tell players when they get their next bonuses.

But honestly, do you really want to do all that yourself? its not a paid job, so why not ask the players to help with the bean counting and share the work load, so you can spend more time making a great adventure. 


Björn Jagnow said...

If I understand you correctly, you prefer the concept of continuous character progression over the concept of level-ups that come in intervalls. Whether this is done by giving out XP or giving out new features doesn't seem to be of relevance - the GM hands out a currency (some XP, one feature), the player decides how to spend this currency. From this point of view, you speak against levels, not against XP, because you simply invented a new XP currency. Whether you call it XP or Karma or simply Reward does not matter - you still use the concept of XP. But you got rid of levels, which is a good thing because of all the reasons you mentioned.

Björn Jagnow said...
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