I’ve talked a number of times about various aspects of experience. But I don’t think I’ve ever touched on when to award that experience or at what point the character actually goes up in level. Nor have I discussed what requirements, if any, are necessary to leveling up.

Assigning Experience

When to assign experience is largely dependent on what characters have to do to gain experience. Personally, I award experience for the following:

  • Defeating Monsters
  • Defeating Traps
  • Completing Quests
  • Completing Skill Challenges
  • Brilliant Ideas

Additionally, I’m toying with the idea of reintroducing experience for treasure gained. If I do, I want it to represent about half of the overall experience gained, instead of the lion’s share (as in 1e).

Experience is then awarded immediately after it is earned. At the end of each encounter, experience for monsters and traps is tallied and awarded. Often characters are seeing to healing and discussing what to do with loot after encounters so this gives me an ideal time to add up experience. Quests generally involve returning to some sort of quest giver so quests are considered complete at that point and that is when experience is awarded. Skill challenges are completed, and associated experience is awarded, when the overall goals are met. Experience for brilliant ideas is determined and awarded on the spot (What qualifies as a brilliant idea is entirely up to the whim of the DM). If experience is to be given for treasure, said treasure must be secured in town (or player stronghold) in order to qualify. Experience is awarded when that has been achieved.

Some DMs keep a running tally and only award experience at the end of the night (or optionally each time the characters return to the city).

As I discussed yesterday, an alternate experience system could allow characters to gain experience every time they hit with a sword, cast a spell, or successfully use a skill. Such a system would allow players to award their own experience, with it accruing with each associated action.

Gaining a Level

So what happens when a character has enough experience to gain a level? The most direct method is to have the character gain the level immediately. Usually, this is at the completion of an encounter (I would very strongly suggest not allowing characters to level during an encounter, even if they somehow gain the necessary experience at that point). Another common approach is to make characters wait until they return to town. In games where experience is only awarded at the end of the evening, leveling up is generally done at that point (or at the beginning of the next game).

Requirements

A common approach to leveling is to simply allow characters to gain a level as soon as they have enough experience. But many DMs require that the character train, or meet some other sort of requirement, before they can level up. Training generally entails locating a higher level NPC of the appropriate class (often it is just assumed that any large town has some sort of training center available) and paying a fee. 100 gold, per level to be attained, is common but I think (if a fee is to be required) an exponential curve would be more appropriate. Otherwise, the fee is meaningless to higher level characters. Training may take but a day or last many weeks.

Another approach is to require characters to earn the right to gain a level. First edition druids, for instance, had to seek out another druid of the level to be attained and defeat that druid in order to gain a level. This could easily be adapted to all classes. Alternately, some other trial could be used in place of combat.

One reader stated that in his campaign, experience was not used at all. Instead, characters needed to enter a dungeon of the requisite level and retrieve a given item to prove their worth. Clearly this method would require a skilled DM to prevent runaway leveling, but I think it sounds like a very interesting system.

An alternate technique, that has become popular in a few 4e games, is to completely do away with experience and have the DM simply tell the players to level their characters when it fits the story. I am not a fan of this technique at all, but it seems to work for some people. I thought it was worth mentioning just for completeness.