Thursday, November 29, 2018

Gaining XP (number 2)

See part one, here.

Where Jeff Rients was not suggesting to replace gold for XP with exploration for XP, Gieljan de Vries does so in the article linked below. The change is drastic: treasures (and killings) do not count for level-up. Only special items do (physical trophies [...] stuff with a story attached).

eXPloration - XP is selling a story about a thing
by Gieljan de Vries
[...] This post is about making all XP gains about discovering sites and information, and bringing back trophies of your adventures.
- XP is tied to physical trophies of your adventures: the stuff with a story attached. There can be extra treasure without an XP value which is still worth money.
- You convert these trophies into money and XP by selling them to interested parties. Ask if you know any likely buyers or suggest shady contacts of your own.
- Bigger sites can involve multiple items to carry all the XP home. If the DM hasn't prepped specific items, feel free to suggest mementoes you could take with you.
- Each coin of silver earned via trophies gives you 1 XP. This assumes a silver-based economy - adjust to taste. [...]
- Just in case this needs to be said: no XP for killing random opponents or for just bringing home a haul of coins and gems. [...]
- Carousing is still a thing. I don't want it to overshadow the main XP sources, so will probably tweak the gains a bit. If the regular rate is 1 XP per silver, maybe have carousing give 1 XP per 5 silver. [...]

Oh well, Gieljan de Vries changed his mind towards the end of the article. Carousing is still a thing. But keeping XP tied only and exclusively to trophies (treasures in the sense of special, rare or unique items) is definitely interesting.

Another article about exploring to get XP - see how it reinforces the idea that killing and looting are not the only ways to play OSR games.
(Remember that we said that what you give XP for, will be what players will do?)

Meeting interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture... and NOT killing them
by Zzarchov
[...] Some examples listed in Piecemeal are:
- Uncommon Locations 50xp (ie, a border fort deep in the woods)
- Rarely Visited 400xp (ie, a far off mountain monastery)
- Unseen for Years 1000xp (ie, a far off kingdom across the sea)
- Unseen for Generations 2000xp (ie, the same kingdom if the sea is infested with sea monsters)
- Of Questionable Veracity 5000xp (ie, uncovering Troy or Machu Picchu)
- Fabled Locations 10,000xp (ie, finding El Dorado or Shangri-La)
- Mythic Locations 50,000xp (ie, finding the Garden of Eden or Noah's Ark)
These are just rough guidelines if you have your own unique XP awards for various locations. [...]

Also the next two linked articles are again from Zzarchov: the first goes back to the idea that the way XP is awarded will influence the style of your game. In this example, to encourage players to capture enemies instead of killing them (a prisoner is more valuable than a corpse), Zzarchov suggests to give more XP for capturing an opponent than for driving them away or killing them.

Murder gets boring
by Zzarchov
This one deals with the problem of wholesale slaughter of your enemies. In this particular post I'll deal with murdering opposing villains, the big villain or at least the stalwart dark lieutenant. Many GM's are frustrated that they cannot have a recurring villain because PC's will not stop until they murder them. [...]
Piecemeal deals with this in the following manner. When you drive off (force to flee, abandon plans or the like) or kill a villain, your party gets experience points equal to 10% of the villain's experience point total. If you can capture an enemy villain you gain experience points equal to 25% of the villain's experience point total, even if you later execute the villain after a "fair" trial (or sacrifice on a dark altar if your evil) [...]
This creates an incentive to not ALWAYS murder, without making it mandatory. While taking prisoners is more valuable it is also more dangerous. [...]

The last article goes back to the root of changing the way you award XP if indeed you desire a slightly different style of play, or want to introduce more variety. Zzarchov recognizes that most games do not support "high fantasy adventures" (and several, explicitly so). But if you want something other than looting dungeons, you need to change the way XP is awarded... or change the way levels are gained.
This is indeed a slightly different take on the subject: instead of telling you to reach milestones and giving a level every milestone, Zzarchov puts a sort of level cap, or better yet, a level requirement. For example, killing nameless orcs is meaningless at a certain point; if you want to level-up past your limit, you need to slay a dragon or something similar.

Adventuring should be the best option mechanically
by Zzarchov
This is a broad flaw, a lot of games that support "high adventure" really don't. The most effective route to achieving your personal goals and ambitions is to not go out and adventure. [...]
1.) Keypoints (or milestones) part of the XP system is that merely gaining XP won't let you exceed level caps. To get beyond certain levels ( Zero, Five, Ten and Fifteen) you need to accomplish feats of certain worth. No matter how many orcs you slay, you won't get past level five until you do something that raises you from Local Hero to National Hero, such as slaying a dragon, overthrowing a corrupt barony, converting a province to ones faith, robbing the royal vault, etc. [...]

Design notes:
- gold for XP, traditional (low power adventurers trying to get rich)
- consider also silver for XP, treasure in silver, but prices in gold (characters are often broke)
- mission for XP
- survival (food? other? survival to horror? to monsters?) for XP
- Gain a level on a main achievement (a kill, an island)
- which brings us to explore for XP; XP granted for visiting specific places (or just for travel, I wouldn't drop the miles-per-XP of the good old MERP), for witnessing life-changing events, and so on...
- XP tied ONLY and exclusively to trophies (special, rare or unique items); no XP for killings and no XP for coins and gems

Additional thoughts:
- Your kills are your level
- Your inventory is your level
- XP for kills: what about giving XP the first time you kill a certain monster (i.e. a goblin), but only the first time? This will make players keep a note of their "first kills", which is great (I am sure this is not my idea, I must have read it somewhere...)
- XP for capturing: give more XP for a captured enemy than for a dead one
- Level caps or limitations; you cannot get past level 5, 10, 15 etc. unless you achieve something very special (which could also be translated in doing something which grants you a really popular status in-game)

Next, let's talk about gaining XP differently depending on your character's class.
Will continue here.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Village and the Witch is now available on DriveThruRpg and in print on Lulu

The Village and the Witch is an OSR MOdule compatible with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the Black Dogs, and other OSR adventuring games.
Editing by Sándor Gebei.

This adventure is designed for low-level characters and is intended as an encounter to run in one or two sessions, between other adventures.
This module is designed to generate a Village, a Witch, and some additional weirdness: two pages with die-drop tables to outline the village (map and content), and two pages with a series of random tables to generate a Witch and its connection to the village.
The rest of the module contains some instructions, random or less random NPCs and other weirdness, some digression about alignment and so forth.

Print on Lulu:

A review can be found here:

This product is an independent production by Daimon Games and is not affiliated with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a registered trademark owned by James Edward Raggi IV.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Gaining XP (number 1)

XP and Levels are often a subject for house-rules. One may think that the first motivation behind it is to make characters more powerful.
Sure, when I was 14 I would make new characters with my friends and start them at higher levels, or reduce the XP requirement per level to level-up faster, or award additional XP generously. We were partially feeding our hunger for power-fantasy, and partially acknowledging that it was hard to experience the higher levels of the game as often as we would experience the lower levels. There was a discrepancy between the game at low levels and the game we wanted (we were not sure about it: sometimes we would just be content being adventurers seeking treasures, but often we wanted intrigue, wars, political plots, save-the-world adventures, etc.).
So, anything that worked in giving us the higher levels faster (or from the start) would work.

But besides power-fantasies, there is a more profound motivation in deciding to tinker with the XP rules. XP is the long-term reward in the game: while you play your session, you play for the thrill and excitement of that specific adventure, to explore both that slice of the world and to explore your character.
In the long term, though, XP is the reward because it is the fuel for leveling-up, and therefore changing your character. Besides giving you more power, level-up gives you more options in play. It allows you to do things you couldn't do before, face enemies you couldn't face before, go places you couldn't go to before.
It makes your character stronger, and therefore it opens new doors.
So, if XP is what you want to acquire, anything that gives you XP is good. Is good for you as a player, even though getting that XP reward might endanger your character.
XP is a bet, it is the fuel for deciding to take risks, to push forward instead of coming back to town.
In other words, whatever comes with an XP reward attached, becomes important in the game.

OSR games stress the XP-for-gold approach. You want treasure (getting rich) not really to buy a plate armor or a castle. You want treasure to get XP and therefore to level-up and go adventuring where you have not been before.
So if you attach an XP reward to treasures, your players will try to get treasures. If instead you change the rules and give 1,000 XP x HD for every monster killed, your adventures will become fierce battles.
To sum it up: give XP for things you'd like to see characters (not players) doing.

We might open an entire discussion, here, about this being "lazy" design - players will have their characters do unreasonable things just to get XP - and about the potential for bad GMs to exploit this. Perhaps I'll do it in another post.
For now, suffice to say that XP-for-gold works well for OSR when you want to play adventurers starting poor and with scarce powers, seeking to become rich. Tomb-robbers, yes. It is a good design because it doesn't say "be mean and greedy" to get XP. You don't get XP for being greedy. You get XP for treasure and this might make you greedy.
If you get XP for blood (of monsters, or perhaps of NPCs too...) you get a violent game. You don't get XP for playing a violent character... You get XP for blood, thus your character will likely be violent.
Now, let's see a few pages about this topic.

The first article, 20 Non-Gold for XP Progression Systems by Cacklecharm, presents a list of alternatives to the traditional gold-for-XP approach. Some grant XP for example for capturing elephants (number 1), or for hunting and foraging (number 4).
The first is a peculiar example, but can be translated in "mission-for-XP". There is someone (a powerful NPC, a prince) in need of something. Bring it to them, and XP is your reward. It works similarly if you're saying that elephants will be paid by the prince 300 gp each (instead of XP).
The other example is more interesting because it exemplifies better the idea of giving a different objective to the characters, a different taste to the game. You're not playing to get rich, you're starving (or your tribe or community is starving) and you play to gather food (and face, reasonably, lots of dangers in the process).

20 Non-Gold for XP Progression Systems
[1] The prince needs elephants for his army. Adult male elephants are worth 300 XP, Female adults are worth 200 XP, and babies are worth 50 XP each. Double XP for 'unusual' elephants (pregnant, covered in tattoos, double tusks, magical, etc.) [...]
[4] Survival. Gain +1 XP per pound of monster/animal meat made into food and +25 XP per handful of edible berries and leaves picked. [...]

The same article, 20 Non-Gold for XP Progression Systems by Cacklecharm, presents also a simpler approach to level-up which does not require to count the single XP points. Level-up when you reach a major achievement or milestone: when you defeat a Count of Chaos (number 2), when an island has been mapped out and colonized (number 3), when you go down a level in the megadungeon (number 19).

[2] The Evil King has 9 evil counts, tyrannically ruling over the Kingdom; The COUNTS OF CHAOS. Defeat one to get a level up; at level 10 you can finally fight the King. Good luck.
[3] Conquistadors. Travel a tropical island archipelago and level up for each island that has been mapped out, the natives pacified, and a fort built to trade back to the glorious empire. [...]
[19] Megadungeon. Each floor = 1 level up. [...]

Additional and fancy options: your level is equal to the HD of your biggest kill (probably suitable for shorter campaigns):

[9] You're monster hunters; and you hunt something specific. Vampires, werewolves, etc. Your level is HD of your biggest kill. [...]

Or your character does not really progress, but you add powerful items to your inventory:

[11] All progression is based on equipment. You get gear which gets better as you add in powerful gems into sockets, find better base loot, add enchantments and sword oils, and so on.  [...] 

While the above presents a nice list of 20 mechanical alternatives, let's now be a little more inspired. Let's quote Blade Runner and Jeff Rients: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe." / "Part of an adventurer's soul is wrapped up in the places they've been and the wonders they've beheld."
Go read the linked article then come back here.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.
In addition to being one of the coolest lines ever to be uttered in a movie, Roy Batty's death speech at the end of Blade Runner speaks to me about the nature of adventurers. A good adventurer isn't just a corpse count and a treasure tally. Part of an adventurer's soul is wrapped up in the places they've been and the wonders they've beheld. [...]
Get out your campaign world map [...] Now imagine which of the places on the map are the coolest to visit. What places are breath-takingly beautiful? Which locations are desolate beyond imagination? What spots on the map have no mortals seen in generations? What places surge with magical energies or reek of unholiness? [...]
Take your ideas and make a list of places from most awesome to least awesome. [...] Next think about how much you want to award pure exploration in your campaign. [...]

You can also do up special rules like "dwarves earn triple XP for any ocean voyage" or "followers of St. Salamander earn 1,000xp for praying at each of his Seven Shrines". And one could establish XP awards for non-location based wonders [...]

Now to make this all work you need to keep in mind 2 important points. First, you have to share at least some items on this list with your player group. [...]

Second, when the players accomplish one of these goals, sell it. Break out that over-the-top poetic voice and use those fifty cent words. Have word get around, with peasants in the street whispering "There goes Lucas of the Amber Blade, he's the only man to ever cross the Shimmering Desert and return!" Most players eat that stuff up. [...]

As you've seen in the article by Jeff Rients, there is more in fantasy games to do than just rob tombs and steal treasures.
More along the same lines, by HDA. The same article presents another interesting idea: make the equipment list in gold, give treasure in silver, and XP for silver. This way the characters level-up according to the treasure they find (in silver, and silver for XP) but have low buying power at the start. They remain broke and hungry, which sets the ground for great adventures.

E6: Variant Experience
by HDA
[...] XP For Exploration
- First time you enter a hex (50 xp)
- Discover a 'major' hex location (100 xp * average challenge rating of the area)
- Discover a 'minor' hex location (50 xp)
This is 'normal' experience, divided among the PCs just like treasure or monsters. [...]
[...] XP For Treasure
This is easy. Using the silver standard, 1 sp = 1 xp.
[...] NO experience awarded for magic items.

True bastard that I am, I am awarding loot & starting wealth based on a silver standard, but all items have the listed cost IN GOLD PIECES in the Pathfinder Core Rules - ie. PCs have 1/10th the buying power they should according to RAW. This way they can scoop up huge sacks of money but they're still broke and hungry for the first several levels. [...]

Do you need a little more convincing about running adventures where combat or treasure are not the main source of XP?

adventures without violence: exploration
by satyre
The idea of adventure without violence is something which may seem a bit of an oxymoron in RPGs but which in story writing is far less difficult to conceive. Imagine a game session where violence doesn't take place; where the elements and environment are adversaries rather than a bunch of mooks or minions and a big bad behind them. The extremity of a situation can be tailored by the game master to the adventurers in question. [...]
Trail-blazing would make a simple structure for an adventure; conquering a mountain may be an adventure in it's own right. Climbing steep cliffs, rock slides, avoiding avalanches or falling off and dealing with extreme environments that can be found (hypothermia, a lack of oxygen, treacherous ice) may provide plenty of challenges and entertainment. Treasure may be found in the form of mineral wealth, animal nests or even the remains of former mountaineers. [...]

This is getting very long, so let's keep the rest for another post about this subject.
Will continue here.

Friday, November 9, 2018


LotFP does a great thing with alignments which is to take Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic, and bring them to a cosmic scale. I feel like quoting the rulebook is a must. See how it does not prescribe how to play with your character? There is no "Alignment Shapes Character" and nothing of the xp penalty or losing divine favor etc. here.

"Alignment is a character’s orientation on a cosmic scale. It has nothing to do with a character’s allegiances, personality, morality, or actions. Alignments will mostly be used to determine how a character is affected by certain magical elements in the game. The three alignments are Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic."

Also, see how clear and to the point are these descriptions, giving a new face to law and chaos, and making neutrality a default state. Also very interesting, in terms of world-building and in terms of shaping the relationships between characters, and between characters and NPCs, are prescriptions about classes with mandatory alignment(s).

"Those who are Lawful in alignment are part of an inevitable destiny, but have no knowledge of what that destiny is and what their role will be in fulfilling it. [...]
Those who are Chaotic in alignment are touched by magic, and consider the world in terms of ebbing and flowing energy [...] Many mortals who are so aligned desperately wish they were not. [...]
Mortal beings exist as Neutral creatures, and remain so throughout their existence unless taking specific steps (often unwittingly) to align themselves otherwise. [...]
Clerics must be Lawful. Elves and Magic-Users must be Chaotic. All others are free to choose their alignment. [...]"

If you are interested in some additional considerations about the LotFP alignments system, you can see my previous post here: Some thoughts on Alignments.

Now, moving away from rule books and into the world of house-rules, let's see some considerations about alignments in the next link. I don't agree with the entire article, but it's not the point. I think it helps focusing the thoughts on the topic. After a brief comparison between "Alignment Shapes Character" and "Character Shapes Alignment", there is an interesting take on "Destined Death". Note how Destined Death provides not just a gameable option, but an overview of the world you play in.
This is quite a fine example of rules shaping the fantasy world of your game.
The article also contains an interesting list of 20 possible alignments, such as Family, Home, The City, A Community, but also Law/Chaos or The Sky, or Fire... (roll a d20 at char-gen? interesting because it gives a twist to the basic concept of character you may have in your head... because it gives you something to bring at the table even when the character is brand new and therefore it has no "past").
It goes in a more traditional direction than LotFP (LotFP twists the original 3 alignments in a new way, while this article does what many house-rules do, adding options and adding flavor, often in search of a "better" version of the original system). Still, worth a read... if only for the "Destined Death" and some ideas in the 20 alignments table.

An Alignment System
by Gorinich Serpant
I greatly despise the alignment grid, I could go into detail but many others have succinctly pointed out it's myriad of issues already. I feel better about the original three option one, but grand cosmic conflicts aren't something that has grabbed me that much. [...]
Destined Death: As a character's life is intertwined with their alignment, so must their death be. This doesn't mean that you can't die in a way unrelated to your alignment, but it does mean if you do than they will become restless, and become unquiet dead until they are properly buried. This is one of the purposes of burial ceremonies. [...]
Your alignment can change and evolve if you have a significant life experience, but generally it's going to be a change in your relationship with the alignment not switching to a completely different one. It should be rare and impactful enought to be ruled on a case by case basis. [...]

Now, I have to admit that I didn't consider the alignment something which is gameable, something to play with. Rules about alignment so far has resonated with me mostly as how creature might interact with the character, or about spells effects or even selection of spells (i.e. a list restricted to chaotic alignment only... a classic).
But now I have the LotFP approach in mind ("cosmic", rather than "moral"), and this idea of destined death. I also expanded a bit on that approach - see my previous post with Some thoughts on Alignments -
That post is mostly flavor, but it shows how alignments contribute to shape the world of your game.

Now, how about alignments becoming relevant according to where the characters are? Aaron Parr came up with a simple yet powerful idea: mapping hexes (locations) to specific alignments.
As you'll see in the linked article, it is also possible to expand this to magic (schools of magic are mapped with alignments, and therefore with locations). This is again quite interesting in the prospective of building your own game world: how is magic connected to alignments and your pantheon of divine powers? And extending the concept: how are Magic-Users powers and Clerics powers connected?
The article then goes on with an idea by Zak Sabbath - using numbers to map alignments to hexes.

Gameable Alignments, Final Name & Compatibility
[...] Parr came with the idea of mapping hexes to specific alignments, if your setting assumes that the pantheon exists. This means, in a specific area of your hexcrawl a god or an aligned pantheon holds control over it (could be denoted through a coloured hex number number), determining what can be done here from a magical perspective (this was my reading of the idea). Parr did state that this would work best if the game assumes a Three way Alignment System - a system where there is a Law, Chaotic, and non-aligned alignments. [...]
Proposed by Zak Sabbath, in relation to Parr’s wish to make alignments more gameable, was that hexes with a specific number were aligned to specific deities. The example by Zak was that the Cheetah God had sway in every Hex ending in 1. This simple idea got my head spinning, for if anybody knows a bit about Numerology have an idea of where this is heading. [...]
The last idea I could think of was having alignment as attributes for player characters. These attributes could be used in a manner to give the PC’s leverage when dealing with social encounters. People, who are aligned similarly as the PC, might act favourably if the player succeeds in one of the Alignment rolls that are relevant. [...]

When I will analyze the twenty quick questions for your campaign setting by Jeff Rients, we will see how certain decisions about the game world could also shape your house-rules.