Saturday, January 10, 2015

XP in Pathfinder

I'm on the record (more than once) as thinking that D&D 3.5e's experience system is "a work of sublime genius", and I stand by that. But I don't think that this carries over to Pathfinder.

You see, the main genius about experience is that it catches people up when they fall behind. 3.5e provides many ways to fall behind: death (and being resurrected by any means other than true resurrection), spending XP on crafting magic items, casting powerful spells with an XP component, being level drained, and the obvious missing a session.

But in Pathfinder, only one of those applies. They changed level drain so you just keep a permanent negative level instead of ever losing a level. They changed death so that it just gives you permanent negative levels instead of taking away a level. They changed crafting and spells so they cost more gold and never cost XP. The only one that applies is missing a session (and I'm lucky enough to be in a group where people hardly ever miss sessions, and if one person is going to miss a session, we don't play Pathfinder, though sometimes we'll play something else).

This is why, when called upon to run a Pathfinder game some time ago, I decided -- blasphemously! -- not to use the experience system at all. Which happened to be what the group was used to -- we'd just played through Rise of the Runelords without experience, leveling up only when the adventure path said we should, and it worked out fine.

How, then, do I determine when the players ought to level up? Well, I take as my baseline the line from 3.5e's Dungeon Master's Guide (page 41, Behind the Curtain: Experience Points sidebar) that experience "is based on the concept that 13.33 encounters of an EL equal to the player characters' level allow them to gain a level". So if I'm stripping out XP, I can just go straight back to that baseline. (I don't know what Pathfinder's experience guidelines are based on, especially because there's three different experience tracks to muddy the issue, is why I go back to 3.5.) To wit: players should level up once every 13.33 encounters.

Except I round up to 14, which more readily divides in two. It's become my habit to prepare 7 encounters at a time, which the party generally gets through in one or two sessions, leading them to level up once every 2 or 3 sessions. You can, of course, use a higher or lower number than 14 if you want your players to level up more or less frequently.

You can get fancy -- a particularly easy encounter counts as 1/2 an encounter, a particularly difficult encounter as two. You can choose to count encounters that the party bypasses entirely, or not count them, or count them as half. What matters is you pick an "every X encounters, the party levels up" and then mostly give them encounters appropriate to their level.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Leveling Up Without A Rest

So most tables I've played at use the house/variant rule that you can't level up in the middle of a dungeon; you only level up if you get a proper 8-hour rest. This is so common at tables I've played with that I don't think people realize it isn't the standard rule. And it just sort of makes intuitive sense, at least to me (perhaps because it's how I first learned to play).

But I've come to the position that there's not really any reason to use this rule after all.

Realism? Is it really so much more realistic to be suddenly better at whatever it is you're doing after an 8-hour rest than in the middle of doing it?

It's a holdover from the way some video games work? One can probably name as many video games where you level up immediately when you have enough XP (e.g. Angband) as games where you need to return to town to do so (e.g. Mordor/Demise). (And some, like City of Heroes, where you immediately get some benefits of leveling up but have to visit a trainer to get the rest of them.)

Confusion over whether you have your new hit points and prepared spells? That's easy enough to answer: yes, you immediately gain your new hit points. Your new spell slots can be filled if you take the requisite 15-minute downtime for filling empty slots if you're a prepared caster wizard; you immediately get your new spells per day if you're a spontaneous caster. (Your existing depleted HP and used spells aren't restored.)

Don't want to spend half the gaming session leveling up characters? Especially in the middle of a fight? That's fine, just hold off on delivering XP until the end of the session, and certainly never deliver XP in the middle of a fight. (I've still got some players who, in their own words, "can't be assed" to level up in the week between sessions, and spend the first few minutes of some sessions leveling up, but that's fine, I like to give plenty of time at the beginning of a session for players to settle down and settle in anyway.)

Further discussion can be found here.