20 Questions: Alternate XP for Fantasy RPGs

If you haven’t read Order of the Stick, go do it. Now. The whole thing.

I was pointed to a fun set of ideas regarding alternate ways to give XPThank you, sir.

“How are players rewarded?” is always a good question to ask from a game master and designer perspective. I’ve already written on the subject regarding Maze Rats’ XP. To reiterate the system I stole from Dungeon World and wedged into Maze Rats, you ask three questions of the group. Each “yes” grants 1 XP. You can get anywhere from 0 to 3 XP per session, with an average of two. You level up at 2, 6, 12, 20, 30, and 42 XP with a max level of 7.

(Sidebar: Dungeons and Dragons should learn from this. NO ONE gets to level 20… and the people that do would easily buy a supplement for, say, levels 11 to 20. Sell the game to normal folks who want a great time in the “sweet spot” of levels 6 to 8, give or take a couple levels to build things up and give them an epic climax. But I digress.).

I generated some questions you could ask to switch things up from just killing or just looting coins. The first three are from Dungeon World, so I take no credit. Roll a d20 three times to form a unique list. What kind of game does that make? How does that change player behavior?

  1. Did we learn something new and important about the world?
  2. Did we overcome a notable monster or enemy?
  3. Did we loot a memorable treasure?
  4. Did we recover a legendary artifact?
  5. Did we explore a new level of the dungeon?
  6. Did we overthrow a lord of darkness?
  7. Did we carry out an order for her majesty?
  8. Did we reach a new sanctuary/point of light?
  9. Did we convince another soul to join our cause/the King’s army?
  10. Did we chart/discover a new area in the wilderness/Otherworld?
  11. Did we defend the keep/our ship from invaders?
  12. Did we invest resources into making the town/our base of operations better?
  13. Did we deliver the royal mail to its intended recipients?
  14. Did we recover a piece of art from the war zone?
  15. Did we cure a region of blight/miasma?
  16. Did we uphold our team’s reputation?
  17. Did we ruin a monster’s lair/goblin nest?
  18. Did we apprehend a criminal?
  19. Did we save a lost or captured citizen?
  20. Did we work together as a team?

These are all short, session-based, binary questions. Either you did it or you didn’t and that should be pretty obvious when reflecting on what all happened that session. These questions are also helpful in making a cool “highlight reel” (“What treasure DID you loot? How DID you overcome a notable foe?”).

For writing your own XP questions, try to avoid numbers. One of the questions I crafted in the first draft was “did we loot at least 500 silver coins’ worth of treasure?” and while it’s not a terrible question, it does make for some awkward mechanic-play interactions. Imagine this: the party, for no explainable reason retreats from the dungeon upon grabbing 500 coins, leaving the rest for another “day” (see also: “session”). The players know why they’re leaving, but its flawed reasoning within the fiction of the game. Admittedly, “did we convince another soul to join our cause” could also be pretty “gamed.” The party becomes a group of gatekeepers, insisting that only one person can join their group at a time, in order to maximize XP (But then you as the GM could turn that on its head by deciding that the party turned off everyone they denied admittance. They joined the enemy cult instead! Mwahaha).

Try to make the questions something within the players’ control. This is partly why the “silver-as-XP” bothers me, just a bit. Players, when researching a dungeon to loot or asking around, will never know how exactly much silver (and therefore XP) is in an area or dungeon. Contrast that with this: if they know that taking down any of the seven or ten enemy leaders will give them 1 XP, then it doesn’t matter which one they go after. It depends on their interest and preparedness more than how many coins a GM arbitrarily placed in a particular dungeon. Player control!

For organizing and crafting your own list, three is the original number. That said, it could be interesting to tinker with how many questions you have and how much XP is required to level up. I found three questions to be comfortable number for each of the players to remember and they leveled-up at fairly regular, consistent intervals. Remember that 2 is the average number of XP the party will get for Maze Rats, as written. So, if there are three questions, select one that is difficult and requires a lot of planning, one that could be done along the way, and one that is nearly automatic (“did we work together as a team?” is usually my pick for this last one. Camaraderie is important in a tabletop experience.)

That’s it. Some design material to dork with and some closing thoughts. Enjoy!

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