A Pointless Post About the Pointlessness of XP

I had been noticing for a while that experience points in D&D 4th Edition were almost more trouble than they were worth and I thought I would do a post about it. Unfortunately, I was beaten to the punch last week by Chris Youngs who wrote about XP in his Editorial. Still, I wanted to say a couple words about it even if I am treading over a well-worn path.

I’ve never liked role playing games that use levels. I’ve commented on this before but I figure in discussing XP I should probably bring this up again. Levels, to me, detract from the realism and often lead to game imbalance. On the other hand with a game like Dungeons and Dragons levels do make the game simpler and more comfortable and with 4th Edition, a game striving for balance, they certainly make things easier on both the players and the game master.

That being said, it seems almost comical that the designers of 4th Ed. decided to include XP for things like quests. My reason for this is that the players can never be ahead of the monsters, as encounters are designed for them based on their level, so extra XP from quests is really nothing of the sort. In truth it is impossible to gain any “extra” XP. Some DMs might withhold XP from a player who misses a day but all this will do is lead to a couple encounters where one player or another might be a level lower than the rest of the party and thus won’t be pulling their weight. This does more to hurt the group than it does the player.

One thing I like about non-level-based games is that it is possible to withhold XP from a player that is not present. For example in a White Wolf Game or a Shadowrun game a player who misses a session can simply miss the couple of XP for that session, thus receiving a minor penalty without the whole group getting screwed over. I am willing to do this kind of thing, where in a game like D&D I find it far more trouble than it is worth.

In my current game most players have taken to writing “See Nick’s Sheet” under experience as they know they will all level when Nick levels. While slightly funny I think it also points to the current problem with experience in that it really feels pointless.

My players have just reached level 10 and I informed them that I will not be giving out any experience at this point. The reason for this is that they will level when the plot says so rather than at some rather arbitrary moment based on XP accumulation. This seems important as I would not want them reaching Paragon before they encounter the final boss of Heroic and also because it is far more dramatic to reach the next tier after an epic battle of some sort instead of after killing yet another group of minions.

Some groups have apparently taken to always doing this and I myself have already said a time or two “just level your characters for next time.” Doing so has allowed me more prep time than having to adjust on the fly because suddenly the players are a level higher than the encounter was designed for.

Again this is all kind of old news but I still find it interesting. With the balance of 4th Edition and the standardization of encounters we have a very clear path of when players should level and it seems hardly necessary to count or calculate XP at all.

I am considering removing XP entirely for my Eberron game as it will be far more story-based with fewer fights and I would hate for the players to feel that they need to get into more battles just so they can level. Yes, Skill Challenges count as encounters and reward XP but I would also hate to have every session filled with piles of Skill Challenges included solely for the rewarding of XP.

Feel free to comment on all of this!