Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Gold For XP That I Like

    Way back in the days of early D&D you spent gold to earn XP.  Most everybody should know that, if you know anything about D&D.  I was never a fan of that system.  I thought the actions themselves, like defeating the monsters, should earn XP - weather or not they had any lunch money to steal.  So I have appreciated the changes in modern times to awarding XP directly, and expanding what to award XP for like exploring, or bypassing the monsters instead of defeating them.  And now, after playing 13th Age, I really like the idea of not counting XP at all and just leveling the party when it seems dramatically appropriate (and given how high you want to get in the time you have).
    But something hit me when I was playing 5th edition a while back.  I decided to go ahead and play the game more "as written" and track XP and gold and stuff.  I also decided to give this privilege to a player, so I didn't have to break out the calculator (well, I still did have to tweak the encounters for having an extra player than the adventure was built for).  While looking over the amount of gold that the pre-written adventure gave out, something jumped at me.  D&D has always written a description of a gem or piece of jewelery and then its value.  So you get a line like, "A small gold statuette of a smiling woman with tiny rubies for eyes (150 GP)."  I have always wondered at that.  Personally I've never cared about what something looked like, or what kind of gem it was, because the only thing I was going to do was sell it and split the proceeds among the party.  Who cares about the flowery description, I just want to know what I can pawn it for.
    What hit me though, was that I could actually see a system of using gold for XP.  If every character had a "social level," with names like the old D&D levels, starting with a level 1 Commoner and going to something like a level 10 Baron and level 20 King/Emperor.  Your social level would come into play when dealing with NPCs.  If your social level was below them you'd have a penalty to social interactions since you are "beneath them" and if higher a bonus instead.  Also, it could be a gateway, so the King's birthday party requires social level 4 or higher to attend.  The difference could be a modifier to get in if you aren't high enough level (like -2/level lower than required) for Bluff checks.
    And with a system like this, you could definitely use gold for XP.  After all, if you want to look noble you have to dress noble.  You have to own a house (and not be a murder hobo) and have nice things in your house.  Servants, throwing parties, all that stuff takes money.  Sure, you could trade some general XP for social XP - killing the goblins threatening the town is worth some social capital; but it really takes cold hard cash to climb the social ladder.  And this way, the flowery description tells you that item is worth full value for social XP (instead of the half when you sell something) - plus you can describe how you have that gem put in a necklace or display the statuette in your foyer.  This also covers the "living expenses" background stuff for characters.  You stay at the same social level unless you spend gold/wealth to level up.  For extra fun you could even take a page out of Torchbearer- every character gets a certain number of actions to take "in town" in-between adventures, the higher your social level the more actions and the more types of actions you can take.
    I kind of like this idea.  I've never liked just asking my players, "Well, you're in town, what do you want to do?"  As Joe Haldeman once wrote: art thrives on restriction.  Having a list of choices, having any kind of starting point, makes it easier to be creative than a big blank page staring balefully back at you.  So having places in town where certain actions can be taken, like in Torchbearer, helps the players decide what to do in-between killing things (mind you, I've only read Torchbearer, haven't played it yet, so this is my impression of the system).  If a Wizard can get his social level up to 5 and acquire an apprentice then now the player has something he can choose to strive for - which is easier than saying "what do you do in town" and not having any rules.  There can be a lot of desert in the sandbox, a railroad track at least gets you to where you want to go.  So while having a separate social level is a bit more complicated, I think the potential benefits could be worth it.  And it really does make treasure feel different if that ancient painting is worth full value in social XP on your wall, or half value sold in your wallet.
    Still, I don't know of any game that has a system like this.  It would be a challenge to tack on to an existing game, and have to be customized to each system - not sure if you can really do a "universal" down-time system since it interacts with the rest of the rules.  Worst of all, this is a tempting project to work on when I already have a dozen other projects in my life that I can't keep up with.  The idea does intrigue me though, so I figured I'd post it and see if anyone else thought it was interesting.

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