Good Morning, All:
Today I'm writing the ubiquitous Experience post. It seems that everyone is posting their thoughts on awarding XP, and as I have a different take on the matter, I suppose I should contribute my random thoughts here to the blogosphere, in the event that they might help a fellow GM out.
Experience awards motivate players to pursue certain tasks, based on what earns XP and thus character advancement. D&D, and most other fantasy games in general, tend to offer XP awards for two scenarios: killing things and getting treasure. Doing so tends to engender adventures and activities that focus on those two elements. Some GMs, seeking ways to reward other actions, have come up with convoluted systems for alternate XP awards that encourage the kind of game they want to play. I've even published an advancement system of my own a few years ago, called OGL Alternatives: Alternate Advancement System. In it, I provided a basic system of determining XP awards for level-based games that reward actions that create the kind of game the GM is looking for. I use a variant of that system now, with almost every game I run, be it Savage Worlds or D&D.
The core of my approach to XP awards is simple: I want to give rewards based on what I want out of my game. I hate games where we spend the entire session sitting in a bar and get nothing done. I hate games where we spend the entire session shopping for equipment and making our spell selections, basically doing prep work that we should have handled between sessions over email or whatnot. That's just a lot of nonsense, and as a player, I'll leave a game that spends too much time in that kind of arena. It's just not fun for me.
The kind of games that I love are those that actually show some forward motion from the start of the session to the end of the session. I want to look back at the end of a session and see that we've accomplished something, that the investment of an evening away from family created something I can be proud of. I also enjoy becoming immersed in the setting, learning new things, or as the GM, presenting campaign elements that the players can remember and use later to increase the perception of the world as its own unique entity. I tend to provide a bit of history and culture with my settings, and it is rewarding to me to know that the players are picking up on it.
With all of that in mind, I tend to use the following system for rewarding experience. I have three primary categories (for low point systems like Savage Worlds) with two supplementary categories (for systems like D&D). The three primary categories are:
1. Forward Motion: If the game moved forward, and the group has completed more than one major scene over the course of the three-hour session, then the group earns one Session Point.
2. Completing A Goal: If the group resolved a story arc that they elected to pursue, such as finishing a dungeon or resolving the attempted murder of a noble's son, then the group earns one Session Point. (This should happen every two to three sessions, so story arcs are typically measured in terms of five to ten significant scenes each.)
3. Learning Curve: Each member of the group is asked in turn to identify three things they, as players, learned about the game world over the course of the session. Of course, they cannot repeat something that was previously mentioned. (I rotate the starting person each time so no one gets screwed all the time by always going last.) If the player can do so, then they earn one Session Point.
The supplemental categories sometimes vary, but I prefer the following:
4. Roleplaying: Each member of the group is asked in turn to provide two ways by which their actions in the session remained true to their character (roleplaying character flaws, alignment, allegiances, or simply fulfilling their role). If the player can do so, then they earn one Session Point.
5. Heroism: If the character engaged in an activity during the session that put himself or herself at significant risk (physical, social, mental, or otherwise) in a manner that allowed the group as a whole to succeed, then the character earns one Session Point.
For low point games like Savage Worlds, GURPS or Hero System, the Session Points convert directly to experience point awards. For D&D and other systems with scaled XP progressions, the Session Points are multiplied by some base number to determine the number of XP earned.
I've even used the above with the standard D20 approach of awarding XP based on conquering monsters, granting 10-20 XP/level for each Session Point, so that the average of the above equals the experience of one encounter appropriate to the party's level.
Ultimately, though, the core of my preferred system of experience awards is designed to encourage the kind of game activities I appreciate, both as a GM and as a player. I think that's the best foundation for any XP system, and I hope that this post has provoked some thoughts on that subject. Ultimately, whatever you decide to do with XP, so long as it leads to a game that you and your gaming group enjoy, then you've made the right choice.