Sunday, March 16, 2014

Some Notes on Experience

A Priest of Karakán and a Pé Chói speaking with officers of the Palace Guard
in the great outer hall of the Court of Emperors at Avanthár

Similar to the rules stated in Men & Magic, characters in Empire of the Petal Throne gain experience points by “acquiring treasure” or “slaying hostile beings.”  The rules go on to specify, “No points are gained for casting spells or other types of activity.”  I find it interesting that Barker found it necessary to include such an admonition.  The notion of getting experience points for anything other than killing and looting must have existed even in those early days of the hobby.

'Normal' games, of course, have winners and losers, but normal games have a definite endpoint.  Role-playing games lack such an endpoint.  Have you cleared out the dungeon?  There's always another dungeon.  Did your character die?  Roll up a new character.  Victory and loss are subjective because the game can continue indefinitely.  Also, the concepts of 'winning' and 'losing' imply competition; role-playing games are co-operative.  A Game Master challenges players but does not oppose them.  The goal is enjoyment, not the determination of a win/lose binary condition.

Part of a player's enjoyment of a role-playing game lies with the continuation of his or her character.  If the character accomplishes something, so does the player – albeit vicariously.  Accomplishment (even when vicarious) is a satisfying sensation.  Experience points offer a record of accomplishment and when accumulated sufficiently, they lead to the in-game benefit of character improvement.  To borrow a marketing term, experience points are, in essence, a continuity program.  By continually investing in the product (i.e., playing the game), the player reaps a reward in the form of an improved character.

Given its wargame origins, it's hardly surprising that 'accomplishment' in Dungeons & Dragons equates to killing things and taking their stuff.  This works out well for murderhoboes and Visigoths, but role-playing is not limited to such characters.  Much of the attraction of role-playing games is due to the freedom of action that characters have.  This very freedom complicates the establishment of a standardized system for measuring 'accomplishment' among player characters.  This is the difficulty that Dave Wesely encountered when he tried to determine 'victory point' awards in the first Braunstein game; different roles had different objectives, so quantifying 'accomplishment' was a difficult task.

In the real world, people improve themselves through training.  Gygax acknowledges this in the Dungeon Masters Guide but rightly states that role-playing a character's training would not be entertaining.  Nonetheless, Gygax established that characters must undergo training before gaining the benefits offered by a given level.  Prior to reaching 'name level', a character must train for one to four weeks at a certain monetary cost per week.  The exact length of time – and hence the exact cost – is based on the Dungeon Master's subjective interpretation of how well the character adhered to the precepts of his or her class and alignment.

Character progression is desirable, especially if the progression is based upon the participation of the player.  Admittedly, quantification of such participation is problematic.

Although not a role-playing game, James Ernest's Escape from Elba has a system where characters gain fighting ability by losing fights.  The logic is that people learn from their mistakes; if a person performs a task successfully, he or she hasn't really 'learned' anything.  Along this line of thinking, if a character quickly dispatches a powerful monster by virtue of a few lucky rolls, does he or she deserve the same amount of experience as an equivalent character who struggled to overcome an equivalent threat?  What about a character that suffers several critical hits from a kobold?  If the character manages to defeat the kobold, should it be worth the same amount of experience points as a kobold that was killed before it had a chance to attack?

Although Encounter Critical has 'traditional' experience points, a character cannot “go up a level” unless and until the character performs a task appropriate to his or her class.  For instance, “A warlock cannot go up a level until he writes a new spell for himself and expands his grimoire.”  Also, “A warrior cannot go up a level until he defeats an equal or more powerful foe using a new kind of weapon.”  There is a 'pioneer' class:
A pioneer cannot go up a level until he discovers a new locale or secret of the wild.  The player should provide a description of any such discoveries, to enrich the scope of the scenario world.  Selling a new travel route may qualify if it can be described with interest.
In D&D, characters earn fewer experience points based upon the challenge they face.  As described, “an 8th level Magic-User operating on the 5th dungeon level would be awarded 5/8 experience.”  'Overqualified' experience is handled differently in Empire of the Petal Throne.  Each of the three professions has the same experience requirements up to level VII; thereafter, the experience point requirements for Magic-Users is somewhat less than for the other professions.  For all professions beyond level VIII, a flat 10,000 experience points are required to advance in level.  However, as characters rise in level, they earn less experience, “since it is proportionately more difficult for powerful characters to deserve experience points than for more vulnerable lower level characters.”  Characters earn only 50% experience at levels IV and V; 25% experience at levels VI and VII; 10% experience at levels VIII and IX; and only 5% experience thereafter.  Oddly, even though “it is proportionately more difficult for powerful characters to deserve experience points...,” characters with high prime requisite scores earn 5% or 10% more experience (just like D&D).  Also, “Any character with a constitution of 96-100 adds 5 percent to acquired experience points.”  The rich get richer and the poor struggle along.

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