Progress without XP (and what I like about mythic rules)


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There's a few things I really like about mythic rules, one of them is that gaining mythic tiers is not related to gaining XP.
Part of me is tempted to do away with XP all together and have characters gain levels through roleplaying and accomplishing things without any associated numbers crunching (there's certainly enough of that all ready).

That said has anyone tried running games where there's no XP, and used some other method of advancing their characters?
What guidelines did you use? Did it work well or fall apart?
Has the method of gaining mythic tiers worked well for you, and have you tried maybe applying that to gaining levels as well?

In my game the emphasis of the game has continued to shift more and more away from slaying monsters (though they like to break into that about once a session) and more scheming and intrigue, and the XP system in Pathfinder I've found is workable, but not ideal for this.


This is the only way we run games here.

Counting XP is absolutely pointless, maybe short of Sandbox games (and even then "levelup every ~3rd session, depending on session length" works pretty well).

Never really used mythic tiers though.


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In Rise of the Runelords (the original cut) and Legacy of Fire, I have leveled at the points where I thought it appropriate. It generally works really well with the APs and saves a ton of paperwork.

In Kingmaker, however, we stick to XP.

In general, if you have a clear idea of the plot and you can break it down into meaningful "books" that match the feel of certain levels, then do it. Chuck XP. If you know what level the players should be, go with it. Just remember not to strain the players' patience too much.


We haven't used XP for years, stopped using it back in third edition (which made magic item crafting difficult but thankfully that's no longer an issue). In our campaigns the PCs all advance at appropriate dramatic intervals. We don't really have any guidelines for this, it's purely GM fiat.


I agree that XP is needless book keeping. I want to run games where advancement come at useful/appropriate moments (like after beating a boss, completing an important part of an over-arching quest, etc.).


Glad to hear others are having luck without XP, I might have to propose it to the group eventually.
How my game has worked is, it tends to, once one major storyline has ended especially, start out sandbox. They can wander around to wherever, and start deciding what they want to do. I'll throw some different leads at them, or they can just surprise me and start trying to do things (and they will, such as looking for work, or getting involved in the economy some how, or coming up with some scheme to dig up dirt on the local powers that be). When they really start latching onto something is when the game goes to being less sandbox, and more an actual focused plotline.

That's different than running a module, which has preset points that make sense to have characters level, but seems like still some sort of XP free system could work perhaps. Or does it sounds like a situation where that's much more questionable?

Actually, what Williamoak says right above me in his post sounds like it captures the spirit of a good idea, and sounds like what Mythic does to advance tiers a bit.

I haven't ran Mythic rules yet, but am wanting too, and have been reading up on them lately. So far some of the ideas in them sound rather appealing (beyond the XP-free system just that they can be great ways for characters to gain something between levels, and could maybe expand the lifespan of a game even).


I quite like sandbox games, and I'm curious about the best way of evacuating XP in them. I can see a few options:

1) GM fiat: when you feel the players have a grip on their current abilities, level them. This can take a single game for good players, or 4-5 for less interested players. Hard to balance, since no group is perfectly consistent.

2) Time-dependent: Maximum every X games, they level. This is rather arbitrary, but simple.

3) Action-dependent: Every time they do a significant action TOGETHER, the group gains a level. For example, a guy starting a shop alone might not gain a level for opening it, but if the group works together to make it a success, etc. , they gain a level. This is my favorite option, since it makes leveling directly dependant on player action.

I'm really aiming for 3. It could even work if each individual player has a specific (small) goal to work towards, and once they are all completed, the group gains a level. Basically, I want to reward the GROUP with leveling, and encourage teamwork (somewhat).

Edit: as to mythic rules, they seem to work exactly like #3: your character does a bunch of awesome things, they gain a mythic tier. I've been reading up on those rules myself, and they are quite interesting. I'm currently in a game that's slowly going mythic (I got my first mythic rank last session for 1 hit killing a bunch of monsters of CR=player level, which was fun (if unusual(I got a LOT of crits)))


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XP is unnecessary ... by itself, it does nothing. XP is just a pacing mechanism for "You should have X encounters before leveling up". Once you get the hang of it, you know what you want X to be ... so just do that.

Grand Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

My group hasn't used XP in years. I just tell them to level whenever it's appropriate to the story. The only downside (if you want to call it that) is the obligatory "did we level" question at the end of every session.

-Skeld


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

We never use XP. When running APs, we generally follow what they suggest for "the party should be X level by this point" to make sure the party is challenged. The people I game with are more interested in the next part of the story more than the next level.


I ran King Maker with XP, just leveled the players up where the book expected it. It worked great. I had started with XP but I found the character were earning more experience due to random encounters.


As a GM I just tell my players when the level up based on the story. I like to give them the shiny new abilities right before the next big boss fight so they have the cool new toys to use for the cool important battle.
It's backwards most games have you leveling up after the boss but I've always felt that the extra levels/feats/class features for the boss fight make it fell that much more important.

If you like the mythic tier rules, remember that the players tiers should be about half of the players levels. Use that as a guide line and you should be set.

As a player I have played with XP a lot and I think it really works fine so long as the GM just figures it out on his own time and doesn't wast time at the table with the math.


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I organize my story in a form of chapters. I basically expect the players to make it through an entire adventure at the level they are at, and then I level them.

Adventure however is a subjective term, as mine tend to run short, think of them as an AP, rather than an entire campaign.

I have never looked back, especially when I create my own baddies rather than using them straight out of the book and really don't want to bother calculating CR and EXP.

I have yet to look into Mythic, and truth be told I was considering using it in place of Epic, but my game has been dragging the past few weeks, what with my PCs getting themselves arrested and all (in game of course).


So far the thread has the vast majority of GMs saying they prefer no XP. Might be some self selection bias involved, but still it's pretty overwhelming.

I like XP, both as a player and as a GM. As a player, well, I like watching my numbers go up as things happen, and I like that I can have a general idea how much the character is growing based on how well that character rose to meet difficult challenges. As a GM, I like having a metric I can use to decide how much I should toss at a party before they level up. (Technically the CR system is supposed to supply this, but CR maps to XP, so it's basically the same thing if (big if) the CR is valid for that party.) The XP system hasn't really led me astray yet, so I see no reason to toss it in favor of my own judgment and risk leveling the party too quickly (leaving them no time to learn to use their newfound power) or too slowly (risking stagnation).

I do fudge XP sometimes, but only if they're really close to leveling anyway or if I'd rather just estimate rather than calculate the exact XP cost of differing numbers of a dozen different creature types that came up as unexpected encounters that session.

Some good ideas here though.


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I'd say my biggest issue about the XP system is that it is entirely balanced in a world of "pure combat"; if you decide to do a considerably less murder-y adventure, XP falls appart pretty quickly. If there are benchmarks for non-combat situations, I have yet to find them. XP works decently for the traditional "go in, murder some monsters, go out" type of adventure. I've felt rather undguided when I want to do otherwise.

Plus the bookeeping is just awful. My current GM spends like the last 15 minutes of every game tallying up exp, and it just seems tedious to me.


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blahpers wrote:
As a GM, I like having a metric I can use to decide how much I should toss at a party before they level up.

Generally we don't have much combat, dungeon-crawling or standard adventuring activities in our campaigns. This makes it difficult for us to use the standard Pathfinder or D&D metrics for leveling. That's one of the main reasons we go without.


Another for the no-XP camp here.

I'm fairly new to GMing, but after a short while of awarding XP, and one module of not doing so, I doubt I'm ever going back to XP. Leveling up when it feels appropriate, when the game looks in danger of slowing down, ect, is a much more useful mechanic for me as a GM.


williamoak wrote:

I'd say my biggest issue about the XP system is that it is entirely balanced in a world of "pure combat"; if you decide to do a considerably less murder-y adventure, XP falls appart pretty quickly. If there are benchmarks for non-combat situations, I have yet to find them. XP works decently for the traditional "go in, murder some monsters, go out" type of adventure. I've felt rather undguided when I want to do otherwise.

Plus the bookeeping is just awful. My current GM spends like the last 15 minutes of every game tallying up exp, and it just seems tedious to me.

Social and other non-combat encounters are easy just assign them a CR, I just go with APL-1 and give them the exp and other awards of that level.


Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber

I started Pathfinder about a year ago and quickly changed over to not using XP. It's much easier to level up the party either at key story points, or when they need a bump to keep things fresh. This tends to happen about when XP would do it anyway - but without the need to track it exactly.

I guess I do keep track of CRs so that treasure is awarded appropriately per encounter or session. And, I use the CR-XP "budget" tables for designing encounters.

This does prevent "XP awards" but I never liked those. I just try to find other ways of rewarding really good ideas or RP play - usually with some special treasure or the opportunity to do a unique mini side encounter. I've found that making custom magic items that are more flavor than powerful serve this pretty well.


williamoak wrote:

I'd say my biggest issue about the XP system is that it is entirely balanced in a world of "pure combat"; if you decide to do a considerably less murder-y adventure, XP falls appart pretty quickly. If there are benchmarks for non-combat situations, I have yet to find them. XP works decently for the traditional "go in, murder some monsters, go out" type of adventure. I've felt rather undguided when I want to do otherwise.

Plus the bookeeping is just awful. My current GM spends like the last 15 minutes of every game tallying up exp, and it just seems tedious to me.

This is actually not true, Ultimate Campaign had a lot of great mechanics for gaining and earning XP from sources other than combat. Namely, developing relationships with important NPCs and progressing those relationships, gaining followers, gaining fame, and kingdom building all had XP mechanics tied in.

I will say XP does incentify murder-death-hoboism.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
master_marshmallow wrote:
I will say XP does incentify murder-death-hoboism.

I don't think that's quite right. Only giving XP rewards for killing opponents encourages MDH, not XP itself.

Grand Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
TriOmegaZero wrote:
master_marshmallow wrote:
I will say XP does incentify murder-death-hoboism.
I don't think that's quite right. Only giving XP rewards for killing opponents encourages MDH, not XP itself.

FWIW, NPC loot is probably a greater incentive than XP.

-Skeld

Grand Lodge

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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

For me, the best part of dropping XP is that it allows me (as the GM) greater control over the pace of the game. I'm no longer tied to the idea of encounter challenge or number of encounters/level. If I want to make certina encounters easier or harder or increase the number, I don't have to be concerned about how that will affect the XP the heroes earn.

-Skeld

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Skeld wrote:

FWIW, NPC loot is probably a greater incentive than XP.

-Skeld

Which is why the majority of my NPCs have trash loot. :)


Skeld wrote:

For me, the best part of dropping XP is that it allows me (as the GM) greater control over the pace of the game. I'm no longer tied to the idea of encounter challenge or number of encounters/level. If I want to make certina encounters easier or harder or increase the number, I don't have to be concerned about how that will affect the XP the heroes earn.

-Skeld

This.


I am now, and probably always will be, torn on the topic of using or not using XP.

One the one hand, when I have an outline for the campaign from start to finish before running session 1, not using XP allows for me to let the players go do whatever they want in-character and be sure that they will always be the "right" level, even if they completely skip out on some side-plots (or spend months of sessions on tangents).

And on the other hand I somewhat frequently run a campaign even though I only had a general theme, a starting point, and a rough idea of what "victory" would ultimately require... so the only cues I have as to when it is the "right" time to level up the characters is XP.

I end up using both styles, varying by campaign, because I am a firm believer in using the "right tool" for any job.


We don't use XP, but rather levelling. At appropriate intervals, when something has been achieved or enough time has passed.

Low levels pass quick, mid levels stay for a bit for the "meaty bits" and less character fragility, and high levels can take quite a while, but there are benefits along the way IG to make the extended periods of levelling quite worth it (high level loot is good, and by this point the characters are dealing with major plots and big villains, which defeating is it's own benchmark).

I don't think I've played in a game that used XP as written in a very very long time.


Our Carrion Crown game began with XP, but as I added in my own material and the occasional module (like Carrion Hill), the need to balance the player's power level versus the module made me change it so they leveled up when it was appropriate.
The same thing happened in our KM game; we kept track until about tenth level, when the nature of the pacing and inclusion of GM material made us change to leveling when appropriate.
Overall, I prefer leveling at appropriate times rather than doing it with an XP total. I feel it adds more to the cohesiveness of the story to gain power after a milestone rather than a random encounter.


I generally hate xp as a mechanic, and I wish it was gone forever (PFS xp is mostly fine for me, mostly because it is SO MUCH less tracking than regular xp).

I never use it as a gm, just level them where appropriate


I have found that it is often better not to use XP. In the last few years we just level when the DM feels is it appropriate.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

XPs. Hmm, those are those little things that always fall off and you step on 'em and....hmmm, no. Oh yeah! They're the things that roll around and...and....hmmm, no. Nope, haven't used those in years. But if you really need some I think I've got a case or two in the attic. More than welcome to 'em if you can find them in amongst the other junk.


williamoak wrote:

I'd say my biggest issue about the XP system is that it is entirely balanced in a world of "pure combat"; if you decide to do a considerably less murder-y adventure, XP falls appart pretty quickly. If there are benchmarks for non-combat situations, I have yet to find them. XP works decently for the traditional "go in, murder some monsters, go out" type of adventure. I've felt rather undguided when I want to do otherwise.

Plus the bookeeping is just awful. My current GM spends like the last 15 minutes of every game tallying up exp, and it just seems tedious to me.

There's the standard roleplaying CR, equal to APL for non-combat encounters.

CRB wrote:
Pure roleplaying encounters generally have a CR equal to the average level of the party (although particularly easy or difficult roleplaying encounters might be one higher or lower).

Story awards or major accomplishments generally award double or more the experience awarded for an APL.

I haven't done the math, but this likely ends up approximating an XP-less system with a relatively fixed number of RP encounters per level, so if you don't (or rarely) do combat, it doesn't matter much whether you're doing XP or not.

I have to say, though, that while Pathfinder certainly doesn't need to be pure combat, the character classes are primarily geared toward it, as is the underlying lore that generates it. It may not need a zillion arbitrary combats per adventure--one really great one or a few decent combats is enough--but without at least some combat the fighter or barbarian is going to feel pretty left out. Most class abilities are combat oriented, with some utility stuff here and there. Spellcasters, of course, can do pretty much whatever they want.

Pathfinder is not my go-to RPG for low- or no-combat games. I have GURPS for that.


By the by, has anybody tried alternate XP structures, such as Sweet20? The idea of a player-driven experience system intrigues me, but I don't know how well it pans out mechanically.


williamoak wrote:

I'd say my biggest issue about the XP system is that it is entirely balanced in a world of "pure combat"; if you decide to do a considerably less murder-y adventure, XP falls appart pretty quickly. If there are benchmarks for non-combat situations, I have yet to find them. XP works decently for the traditional "go in, murder some monsters, go out" type of adventure. I've felt rather undguided when I want to do otherwise.

Plus the bookeeping is just awful. My current GM spends like the last 15 minutes of every game tallying up exp, and it just seems tedious to me.

Yeah that is the big thing. Sure we have very combat heavy sessions now and then, but it is less and less the focus. Even when there is combat we more and more try to make it, you could say, cinematic, and descriptive, and itself an opportunity for more role-play.

As blahpers says, most in this thread saying they like not using XP may be self-selection bias though... since I've never been in a game that didn't, and most have handled it in a pretty standard sort of way.

I haven't heard of Sweet20, maybe I'll have to look into it. It would be good to have a system, but one that is very character and story driven could be great (or could be terrible I suppose).

I've been treating non-combat encounters sort of like combat encounters xp wise, but somehow it just doesn't seem like an optimized system for that sort of thing in my mind, it doesn't have the right feel somehow, and seems kinda tacked on.


As a GM i use XP. I'll get some flack for saying this, but i don't do any bookkeeping. I tell my players instantly when they get XP, and let them tally it, it works great. They get excited with the numbers, and i get to have less bookwork. Plus it lets me gather my thoughts for the next encounter while they excitedly scribble


My GM does use xp, but he does it like this.
1. He awards xp for sessions that have been mostly rp, not even important story-driving rp, if our characters have been doing cool/weird/a
stuff or getting to know each other or generally interacting then we get a bit of xp so the session doesn't leave us without some kinda progress level-wise.
2. He awards xp at the end of the session, and we add it to our character sheets.

Personally I don't mind the system, but some of the stuff here sounds really cool! I'll talk to him next time I get a hold of him and ask about it! :3


Mwahahaha!! wrote:

He awards xp for sessions that have been mostly rp, not even important story-driving rp, if our characters have been doing cool/weird/a

stuff or getting to know each other or generally interacting then we get a bit of xp so the session doesn't leave us without some kinda progress level-wise.

See, I want to do this to encourage more roleplaying, but I don't want the session to be entirely talking without any action happening. x.x


I'm thinking that I'm for now on going to continue to keep good track of exactly what characters do (individually and as a group) like I have been. But instead of having strict numerical XP, I'll have a simpler points system, and one which is only a loose suggestion that characters did something more or less noteworthy, or the party as a whole made more or less significant progress in the story, or faced more or less difficult encounters. All these points would be is to give me a rough idea of how much was accomplished at a glance, then I can look at my notes for more depth if I need to. I'd only have points go from 1-4 for each session. It isn't completely dissimilar from XP to be sure, but seems a much simpler method to keep track of things to me.

To actually determine how they level I have a good sense of on average how fast with standard XP they would tend to, and I want to have each successive level to take somewhat longer to attain.

Plus... if I notice the group, or a particular individual is particularly doing a lot to gain a lot of points I can reward them in some way (such as allowing slightly faster leveling or some such).

For people whom like real clear cut XP numbers... a sort of vague points system like this might seem insane (it is comparable to a real basic sort of grading system really), but for this I think the simplicity might have a chance to work.


master_marshmallow wrote:
williamoak wrote:

I'd say my biggest issue about the XP system is that it is entirely balanced in a world of "pure combat"; if you decide to do a considerably less murder-y adventure, XP falls appart pretty quickly. If there are benchmarks for non-combat situations, I have yet to find them. XP works decently for the traditional "go in, murder some monsters, go out" type of adventure. I've felt rather undguided when I want to do otherwise.

Plus the bookeeping is just awful. My current GM spends like the last 15 minutes of every game tallying up exp, and it just seems tedious to me.

This is actually not true, Ultimate Campaign had a lot of great mechanics for gaining and earning XP from sources other than combat. Namely, developing relationships with important NPCs and progressing those relationships, gaining followers, gaining fame, and kingdom building all had XP mechanics tied in.

I will say XP does incentify murder-death-hoboism.

I'm inclined to agree, having had players have their 'just a couple XP short' characters intentionally pick fights to level up.


MYTHIC TOZ wrote:
Mwahahaha!! wrote:

He awards xp for sessions that have been mostly rp, not even important story-driving rp, if our characters have been doing cool/weird/a

stuff or getting to know each other or generally interacting then we get a bit of xp so the session doesn't leave us without some kinda progress level-wise.
See, I want to do this to encourage more roleplaying, but I don't want the session to be entirely talking without any action happening. x.x

See, this doesn't bother me at all. So long as everybody is enjoying themselves at the table, doesn't matter if there's a fight. It helps that I don't have a single hack-n-slasher in the group, of course, but just the lack of the 'fight=XP' mentality relieves any itchy trigger fingers.


Personally, I still use xp in many of my games...
however, one thing I did away with early on (before PF existed) was eliminate individually-tracked xp totals for PCs. In most games I've run, having PCs of different levels at best does nothing and at worse exacerbates discrepancies between PCs. The group has one xp total.

Now, on the topic of no xp (which I have done for a few campaigns I've run), one suggestion I saw in another thread on this topic was to have the players vote on when to level up. When people feel ready, they can call a vote on who wants to level, with a tie meaning they remain the same level. Obviously this depends a lot on your players, but I might try it next time I run a game without xp (my current campaign is using group xp)...

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Zhayne wrote:
See, this doesn't bother me at all.

No, see, I would get bored GMing that.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Zhayne wrote:
See, this doesn't bother me at all.
No, see, I would get bored GMing that.

Well, yes, but I wouldn't. :)


I've only played one game without xp, and that's my current mythic game. Every session we gain a level or teir. It's really cool be we need more down time for my wizard damn it! No time for upkeep, I forsee major problems in the furure if the amount of downtime remains the same.

Silver Crusade

Switched to no XP with Pathfinder, leveling during rest periods after major events. My players stopped paying attention and tracking it during 3rd edition. Saves me a lot of time messing with numbers that end up advancing players near the time I'd do it by story-means anyways.

Silver Crusade

Been using XP but hate them for just the issue mentioned. a few XP low causes heroes to turn absolutely evil in their attempts to kill anything they can to make up the last few xp.

I like the idea of dropping them. would allow me to play a few more games at each level. especially in kingmaker. It's hard to keep interesting wandering encounters when it could cause players to jump up in level faster than set enounters are set for


Yeah, I've been lucky enough not to have to deal with them going out of their way to kill things just to grind, or to hit the last few XP they need to level up. However I'm not at all surprised to hear it could be an issue. Anyhow I've started introducing Mythic stuff, and so far what feedback I've gotten on just not dealing with XP to determine leveling up either and the like has been well received. They know that if they are actively engaged in the game, try to roleplay well, and get creative they will get more goodies, and level up faster than they don't.


When I first started gaming, the systems I played in didn't use XP so I carried that over now that I GM a Pathfinder group. I just let my players level up by sessions attended. That way I don't have to keep track of skyrocketing numbers and those that are actively playing still advance and know when they're going to level up.


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I will plan a long campaign, in a flow chart, from start to end, and then note where levels will fall. The game I'm running now has probably spent 12 sessions at level 8. They spent 4 at level6.

It's what works with the story, not the xp, that matters


When I run and AP, levels happen when the book says they should. I do not want punish the group because they found a way to skip the door guards and just went around a few encounters on their way to save the NPC.

In my sandbox (e6) games I do not use EXP, instead I use story points. Every 10 points is a level. They get story points for accomplishing goals and for APL +2 or harder encounters. I want to discourage the we go provoke a random encounter just of xp mentality.

It also leads to interesting encounters even from random encounters far below their level. It is kinda of pointless to run 6 stock goblins against 4th level party but if they start asking questions about what they were doing here and the blue star tattoo they all have then we just found a story. I always include something odd in low level random encounters and sometimes I have to think fast as to what it could mean.

My players have learned to have an IC discussion about what it could mean before they ask for a roll because I will take their ideas and use that for a story. They also know that it means plot is afoot if the answer has nothing to do with what they discussed.

Even animal encounters can be great for this. An attack by 10 wolves at first level is a story in its own right but the same attack on 6th level characters make them wonder why the wolves would pick pray that is so difficult to take down and why did none of them run after the alpha went down.

Basically if they encounter is not something that will be talked about OOC by the group down the road then it is worth nothing.

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