The Many XPs of D&D

April 5, 2012

With all the D&D5/ D&DNext stuff going on, one of the ideas that keeps getting brought up is the idea of this new system being flexible enough to adapt to the many ways of playing D&D.  An easy dial to design around is what rewards XP?  Pretty much if you want to know what kind of D&D you’re playing, having a reward system that matches up with it is an easy way to go.

BECMI, AD&D1, both focused mostly on rewarding treasure hunting.  This is very different than AD&D2’s way of rewarding spellcasting, or skill use.  And that’s also different than 3E’s encounter rewards, or 4E’s Quests.   So we can already see throughout the history of D&D, XP is an easy system to change what game you’re really playing without necessarily digging in too deep into the other mechanics.

So, an idea (whether for 5E, or to tack onto whichever D&D you choose to play), would be to have XP sockets- you plug in a few based on how you want this particular campaign of D&D to play.  This needs to be clearly laid out to the group and discussed so everyone’s on the same page.

Things which have been rewarded for in past D&D:

– Gold/Treasure (heist – get treasure, get out)
– Spending Gold (Spend it on non-adventure stuff, get XP)
– Fighting Monsters (classic hack and slash)
– Overcoming Traps (dungeon delving)
– Casting Spells in an Adventure/Towards a cause
– Using Skills in an Adventure
– Completing Specific Tasks/Quests

House rules for XP rewards:
– Exploring the dungeon (Tunnels & Trolls did this, OSR folks, etc.)
– Politics and Drama (In Thy Name)

This post is a pretty good example of how people can craft their D&D very specifically using a variety of XP choices to shape the game.

Most D&D has historically picked a default manner and sort of lumped off the other options without much advice or support for the DM – instead, it’d be nice to lay out a couple of defaults, then show DM’s how they can pick and choose amongst a menu for very different D&D games.

Obviously, the other half of it would be designing & how to run (dungeons, adventures, prep) to meet those XP choices, along with an understanding of what pacing makes sense for the group.

Labeling some common mixes will also help groups figure out what kind of play they’re looking for (“Hack & Slash means XP for monsters, and high encounter ratio”, “Heist means X for gold but nothing else”, “Delver gives XP for traps and exploration” etc.)

This is going to be one of those core issues if they’re serious about trying to support multiple play styles for D&D – especially since they have to compete with every previous edition as well as the OSR crowd- if you don’t give the play base something they can’t get elsewhere (or already have), then there’s no reason for them to get in on it. Unfortunately for WOTC, D&D isn’t about designing a game to sell fresh, it’s about designing a game for an existing culture, which has some extra stuff they’ll need to navigate around from the past.

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