Over the years, our group has played around with all sorts of house rules. We’ve testing out many new ideas for every subsystem in the book. Some work. Some don’t. But playing around with the rules is always fun. Going through some old characters I found notes on an alternate experience system a friend of mine once developed and thought I’d share it with you.

Experience For Loot

Originally, the amount of experience awarded was primarily based on the amount of loot the party successfully hauled back to town. The monsters fought and difficulty of the encounters gain some experience, but the bulk came from loot. If the goal is to earn some cash or find some magic items, then this system makes a great deal of sense. Characters are rewarded for completing their primary goal (gaining treasure). This system reduces monsters and traps to obstacles to be avoided. Therefore, brilliant strategies are often developed that circumvent the monsters opposed to fighting them. The drawback is that characters aren’t always required to use their class skills in order to gain experience. If a fighter is always slinking around avoiding monsters, does it really make sense for her to gain experience and skill as a fighter?

Experience For Monsters

The granting of experience for loot was done away with in favor of awarding experience for defeating monsters (with bonus experience given for brilliant ideas and other noteworthy feats). This brings into question exactly what constitutes the defeat of a monster. Killing the creature is one method. But isn’t incapacitating or avoiding just as effective? In practice, this method really came down to killing monsters to gain experience.

Dividing Experience

Each character contributes differently to a battle, either because of class differences, level differences, or play styles. Various methods have been used to assign experience based on each character’s contribution. These methods each worked to some degree but the fairness of the criteria used always came in to question. This is where my friend’s system came into play.

Experience Per Action

What this system proposes is that each character gains experience for each successful action.

When any character successfully hits an opponent, the character gains experience based on the armor class of the target. A monster that is harder to hit grants more experience. Critical hits received an additional 500 experience points. Ranged attacks received half. Also, engaging a creature granted experience as if the character had made a successful hit.

Armor Class109876543210

Armor Class-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10

Wizards and clerics received experience from casting spells as well, with each level of spell granting a greater amount.

Spell Level1st2nd3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th

Rogues received experience whenever they successfully performed any thief skill (detect traps, disarm traps, etc). Not having run a thief under this system, I unfortunately don’t have any data on the breakdown of experience for each skill. As I remember, each success gained only a very small amount as these were skills that could be performed quite often.

Using a scroll or magic item granted the user 100 experience

My Thoughts

It’s easy to see that this system succeeded in its goal of rewarding characters for their contribution. Furthermore, it focused on rewarding characters for using their class abilities. If the whole party sneaks around a dragon (for instance), the thief gains experience for using a class ability (move silently) but the others do not gain any as they are not using their class abilities to do so.

I think I might have used a slightly steeper curve on the combat experience but I would have to look deeper into the numbers first to be sure. The spell experience, on the other hand, definitely needed to be exponential. A 6th level spell should yield far more experience than two 3rd level spells.

Although I rather enjoyed this system, it had some fundamental flaws. The most serious flaw was that it strongly encouraged meta-gaming. Characters quickly realized that it was to their advantage to use the worst strategies possible. If you run into a creature with an extremely high armor class, do NOT allow the spellcasters to kill it with a single spell! The fighters want to pull out their daggers and get in as many hits as possible before the creature dies.

Another problem was that thieves were really raking in the experience because there were so many things they could gain experience from and they could be done more frequently, many outside of combat as well. (I wish I had the charts for thief experience to share with you).

A less tangible problem was that it brought about the mindset that experience = combat. Granted, in most games this is predominantly true. But most games, this system included, also award experience for figuring out puzzles, solving mysteries, attaining goals, completing quests (even if not called quests or even formalized as such), and even role-playing in certain situations. Because of the visual equation of experience and combat evident in the experience tables, players immediately took on a mindset that they needed to find more high-AC monsters in order to level. This all resulted in fighters being quicker to draw their sword instead of attempting a dialog first, spellcasters looking for reasons to cast spells (the higher the better), and thieves using their abilities when they really weren’t needed in the hopes of a little extra EP.

As I said, I did enjoy this system. We fortunately had a good group who did their best not to take advantage of holes in systems. Plus we had an excellent DM who wouldn’t have allowed much abuse anyway. But not all groups are as lucky and I could see this system (at least as is) causing some serious problems.

However, it is an awesome example of thinking outside the box and approaching one of the subsystems of the game from an entirely different angle.