Does anyone do this?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


I was thinking maybe instead of tracking xp the players should just automatically level up when they reach a certain "beat" or plot point in the adventure. Has anyone tried this?


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Yup, plot-based leveling is the best way. Live it, love it, never look back.


I think it may be more common than using experience points. I don't have any numbers, though.


Having played in both types of campaigns, and run both types of campaigns, I absolutely advocate for handling leveling like this. It enables you to set the pace of the adventure, which helps comfort and planning. And in some groups it can also help move away from the mindset of "I need XP", which I know the 3.5 campaign that uses exp leveling I'm in suffers from.

Just be sure you tell your players that you're using Milestone Leveling, so that everything is clear and out in the open.


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Make posts with subject lines that tell you nothing about the OP? You just did.

Oh wait...sorry. Pet peeve. Yes, its a good method for leveling up. It kind of rewards players for skipping content but honestly so what? It means you can time it out so the encounters are right for the party level.


My personal experience is...yes.

I will never go back to plot based leveling.

And I agree that I hear more people talking about it, than leveling up using XP. Although, since that's the standard it's not unexpected.


I award XP rather than do story-based leveling. I have done both and played in both styles, and I can't shake the feeling that levels are just 'given' rather than earned without XP. I like having a tangible value on character progression, a sense of satisfaction with big number rewards.

But the bottom line is I will enjoy a game regardless... it is just personal preference!


What if I told you that "XP is just given" so giving out levels isn't really different from giving out XP?


Terronus wrote:
and I can't shake the feeling that levels are just 'given' rather than earned without XP.

I can understand the point of view, but in my opinion it's just as earned. You still overcome the encounters, beat the monsters, save the town, whatever you would've needed to do to get the exp in the first place. I mean, from what I've seen in the adventures I've played, most of the time Milestones are awarded around the same time that people would be leveling up anyways.

That being said, I can totally get behind the idea of totaling up your exp and being excited at the big numbers, and like you say, it's just a preference. (I'm just bad at math so calculating exp is a pain for me!)


I think part of it depends on how narrative-focused your game is. If you're playing a plot-based adventure where players are expected to be certain levels by certain points (i.e. any Adventure Path), just using the milestones makes sense. On the other hand, sandbox/exploration/non-linear games may do better with XP, since what the players choose to do and where they choose to go is somewhat more important than what story elements they reach.


Why XP doesn't work.

Follow-up


I don't care for plot point leveling.

I don't feel things are earned at that point. I enjoy a little 'competition' among friends to make each session. However, when I DM, I track all experience, and I also made up my own rule of passive experience, so that even if you miss a session (all of us are 40 with kids; can't even get together once a month all the time), you will get experience based on what the adventurers actually did.

This is just a personal feeling to it. We also all enjoy the 'earning' it factor of having an XP number above the total needed to raise up to next level.


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I would probably switch to plot leveling, but the damn kids are good at math and love calculating their experience.

Personally, they both have merits and demerits, but I'd probably prefer leveling by plot.


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As a GM, I love it. Less paperwork. Less dealing with that one player that misses every other session and complains about being behind on XP. None of that "You have to go hunt wolves for a couple sessions before we can move on" immersion breaking stuff.

The APs have a guide at the beginning to tell you what levels for each chapter. Very handy, and that's where I started using it from.

About the only downside to the system is it can be a bit anti-climatic when at the end of a session the GM says "Okay...uh...level up for next week." I think players do like tracking XP and treasure to get that sense of progress. But, the pros of Milestone XP outweigh that, I think.


I use experience, but don’t award it to players. I keep the total and tell them when to level up. If they get stronger than what the plot calls for, I enhance the encounters. If they intentionally over-level, I adapt and the world adapts.


That is what I do now. It's not worth the extra bookkeeping especially when you have that one player who never writes his XP down.


Yqatuba wrote:
I was thinking maybe instead of tracking xp the players should just automatically level up when they reach a certain "beat" or plot point in the adventure. Has anyone tried this?

I Love XP! I like to earn them and look forward to levelling up.

Just being told to level up makes me feel that I didn't earn it.
I realize that this is not how a most people in this thread feel, but I do:-)

Good Gaming to you all!


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The last time I was in a group that used XP I'm pretty sure it was before D&D 4th Ed came out.
The group I GM for levels based on milestones. Partially because I'm lazy and don't want to calculate XP after every session, mostly because if I want them to be a certain level before they do something I don't want to have to make up extra fights just so that they're strong enough for the next part of the story.
Those fights would just be make-work projects and I can't stand pointless make-work projects.


I prefer the milestone method (as mentioned above) but I certainly wouldn't refuse to play an XP based game. Combat-centric campaigns probably lend themselves more to XP based levelling, while story-centric campaigns would lend themselves more to milestone levelling. Fighting a huge monster before you're really ready for it just so that you get that tasty XP might really help you enjoy the harder challenges if that's what the game is based around.

I say try both and see what your group prefers.


Warped Savant wrote:
I don't want to have to make up extra fights just so that they're strong enough for the next part of the story.

My previous campaign was 'level up whenever I feel the party has earned it'.

My current campaign is a linear adventure with quite a lot of optional bits. I want the party to feel like they're rewarded for taking on the optional bits instead of skipping them, so I'm using XP again.

But I award a lot of XP for things other than fights. Information gained, friends made, areas explored, allies protected, traps avoided, hidden treasure found...

If I want the party to level up quicker, I just get more generous with that stuff. They're unlikely to notice, and it's less intrusive than forcing extra battles on the party.


Claxon wrote:
What if I told you that "XP is just given" so giving out levels isn't really different from giving out XP?

I would agree with you! However, it feels different.

I'd like to share some experiences that would help describe why I think
it feels that way:

The first is in the game I run.

XP Example:
I forget what level the party was reaching, but we were ending the session and they were something like 1500 XP from leveling. So I asked them to describe something they felt their characters accomplished or learned that I might not have considered. I can't remember the responses save the party's alchemist. Socially inept but incredibly smart, she described using knowledge (local) to understand Elven customs (describing the actual customs on the fly, great improv from the player!), and described the character's struggle to resist name-calling and pushy requests in order to help the group reach the MacGuffin. Other players in the group had similar responses... a well earned level, I thought!

The second is a game I am a player in.

Milestone Example:
Its a bi-weekly game, and one session was canceled (I forget why), so we had missed a month of gaming. After returning to the game and having a fun session, a couple of the players kind of pressured the GM to give us a level. In the end, he relented and gave the level.

These are extreme examples, but I think it shows the difference of giving vs. earning. Again, I'm okay with both styles, and understand that these examples could easily be flipped (pestering the GM for the extra XP, or describing experiences in a milestone game for the level)... but my personal gaming history has influenced my preference for sure.


The second example isn't an example of milestone leveling, that's an example of players pressuring the GM. Milestone leveling would be "The GM planned that after the fight against Boss Monster X that the party would level up and proceed to the next Arc of The Campaign".

And, as a GM before the end of the session you could still ask for players to summarize what they learned, even though it doesn't affect how much XP they do or don't gain, which can still allow for some great RP moments.

Edit: And I just realized that you concede these points to me.

Which ultimately leads me to my point that what you're describing isn't really about how you handle XP, but about how certain GMs handle issues that surround XP.


I used to be dedicated to the concept of XP-based leveling. It was something bred into the game at its most base level. Seeing numbers gave you that feeling of progression, a building sense of anticipation as you got that much closer to another level of power!

But over the years, and especially with the group I'm currently GM'ing for, I've become more and more enamored of milestone or periodic [because levels don't always follow a major event] leveling, and it's what I've adopted for our current campaign. After a certain number of adventures and challenges, characters gain a level. I say characters (and not "the party") because I stagger the levels. Rather than the entire group gaining a level at once, I have half the group gain a level at a certain point and after the next session, the other half gain their level. Thus, there's never more than a one-level difference among party members, and not for more than one session. This doubles the number of "jackpot" sessions and reduces the load on trying to help everyone to level (if your groups of players is one of those that needs hands-on help with leveling) in the space between one session.

The best part about this method is of course not having to worry about totalling up the xp. Whatever route the party takes to victory, whether it's combat, diplomatic, duplicity or whatever, if they achieve the means, they get that much closer to leveling. I know that's essentially what it says in the books anyway, but it always felt somehow wrong when dealing with actual xp that if one member of the party managed to outwit a ferocious enemy and avoid a battle that should have put the whole group on the edge of their seat, that the reward should be the same.

In any event, unless I come across players who somehow feel cheated if they're not provided with their arbitrary post-session xp numbers, I will likely stick with milestone leveling.


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"Milestone leveling" assumes the existence of milestones. In my experience, such things are impossible to predict ahead of time.

For example, consider Rise of the Runelords: Anniversary Edition. Each book provides a list of plot points and their corresponding expected experience levels for the party. Thing is, this only really works if your party goes through the events in the Adventure Path in order and--most importantly--without doing anything else deserving of experience. Does your party take a side trek to the Devil's Platter to hunt down the Birdcruncher goblin tribe and end up stumbling across a bugbear cult in the middle of a fiendish ritual? That's going to throw a wrench in the suggested progression.

Savvy GMs will adjust for this and expect that players (nor the prominent NPCs, if this take a significant amount of calendar time) will be more experienced than expected upon reaching the original milestones. Fortunately, we have a pretty good system for deciding how much to adjust player level for nearly any series of challenges we can imagine--experience points.

That being said, there's really nothing wrong with arbitrary level up points. In practice, they ended up just being a coarser-grained version of XP anyway. PFS does this with its prestige point system, and many less linear home games simply level up after N sessions.

On a side note, b]Slim Jim[/b], I sympathize with your issues with XP and real-world player attendance but consider his solution a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Your follow-up post even offers a solution to this problem that doesn't involve trashing XP, and it's the solution I use in practice, save that I simply rubber-band WBL to solve the problem.


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Claxon wrote:


Edit: And I just realized that you concede these points to me.

Which ultimately leads me to my point that what you're describing isn't really about how you handle XP, but about how certain GMs handle issues that surround XP.

Yeah, I wasn't trying to push a perspective or change your view, rather to share my own experiences to illustrate why I enjoy XP. :)


blahpers wrote:
On a side note, b]Slim Jim[/b], I sympathize with your issues with XP and real-world player attendance but consider his solution a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Your follow-up post even offers a solution to this problem that doesn't involve trashing XP, and it's the solution I use in practice, save that I simply rubber-band WBL to solve the problem.

To the extent that that solution is followed, then the XP of only the most active-player's character matters, and it tend to matter only for published APs and that sort of thing in which the next section is going to introduce more powerful opponents.

In a homebrew campaign, as a GM you'll sometimes find yourself at a nice plateau in which everybody is comfortable and having a ton of fun (I call it the "E6 stretch", and you're under no impetus to pick up the pace of leveling until the players request it.


Ultrace wrote:

I say characters (and not "the party") because I stagger the levels. Rather than the entire group gaining a level at once, I have half the group gain a level at a certain point and after the next session, the other half gain their level. Thus, there's never more than a one-level difference among party members, and not for more than one session.

In any event, unless I come across players who somehow feel cheated if they're not provided with their arbitrary post-session xp numbers, I will likely stick with milestone leveling.

This sounds like a really fun take on it to me. The latest player to join my group has (after talking to her about it before-hand, too) an XP differential that has her leveling a session behind my players that have been there since the beginning. It has added a fun dynamic to the group since they are nearing another level and have been talking (in character and out) about the things they are gonna choose.

I think we are probably too far in our game to change it, but that is something I would possibly borrow in later games!


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blahpers wrote:
Does your party take a side trek to the Devil's Platter to hunt down the Birdcruncher goblin tribe and end up stumbling across a bugbear cult in the middle of a fiendish ritual? That's going to throw a wrench in the suggested progression.

If I'm doing milestone levelling, they just won't level up any sooner as a result of this side-quest, even if they think they deserve it, because they haven't achieved the milestone requirement. It doesn't disrupt progression, though it might it disappoint the players by making level-up take longer than they expect. But they'll know it's a milestone game, so they ought to be able to handle it.

If anything, additional side-quests are a bigger problem for experience-based games:

They defeated the bugbear cult I added, so they level up early.
Now the printed adventure is too easy for them, so I make all the encounters roughly one CR harder for the next chapter.
This means they get more experience for everything, so they level up early again. So I make the opposition harder in the next chapter too, but that means they get more experience...

I do have a milestone problem with my current 5e Tyranny of Dragons game, however. For example, there's a bit where the characters level up, then arrive at a hunting lodge. They're supposed to level up again when they clear the hunting lodge. But: unless I change the story, there is no need for the party to go to the hunting lodge. They can just head to the nearest village, where the story continues. So if they avoid the hunting lodge, do I level them up without them doing anything, or do I leave them permanently one level behind? (This is one of the reasons I'm using XP again.)


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We could see no reason to explore that hunting lodge. It was a real point of mental friction for me as a player. It felt like we were “supposed” to investigate, but it also felt like a diversion and a waste of time to abandon our chase at that point. (Our DM just gave us two levels at the next milestone, from memory).


At the end of each session, the players vote as to whether they should level up. If a majority say they should level, then everyone goes up a level. A tie means staying the same level.


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137ben wrote:
At the end of each session, the players vote as to whether they should level up. If a majority say they should level, then everyone goes up a level. A tie means staying the same level.

Hahahaha, sounds like a great way to become level 20 in just 20 sessions.


I do milestone markers.

If they side quest I let them level up a little earlier than the milestone was, but I don't for the next milestone it can stay where it was.

XP is just a waste of time and math. If I wanted to do math I wouldn't be running an AP. Now I can focus on story and characters and let them worry about things.


In designing adventures, I try and align XP gains with story milestones. Every level has a fixed amount of XP, and average CR encounter gives out a certain amount of XP, so I work on a encounter/level system. It's rough, it's loose, it leaves wiggle room for randomness and PC shenanigans. On the surface, however, from the players' perspective, it doesn't make a difference either way. They level when I say they do.

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