Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why the Modern XP System Sucks

Y'know, a while back while I was playing DnD, I realized I'd gotten tired of using XP to track advancement. It seemed dumb to tally up numbers that meant nothing beyond how close you were to leveling up and getting shiny new stuff. Could you get that new stuff immediately? Of course not, you had to wait for... I don't know why, truth be told. I mean, anytime I asked people, they'd just shrug their shoulders and say "I don't know, it's just that way". I'd shrug my shoulders too, and keep attempting to make epic plots that didn't work.

Of course, leave it to Carpe to start asking questions and making it even more difficult for me to accept a system that makes no sense outside of its OD&D origins, where gold was XP, and that the gold was supposed to get you more items  in the meantime until your character "got it" and leveled up. I mean, if you use XP in that way, it does make sense. You go into a dungeon, and get the most XP for getting the gold. This gold goes towards advancing your character and may then be used to buy better items, which will keep your character alive longer, allowing him to level up. See, that system makes sense, especially with D&D's origins as a dungeon raid. Since monsters didn't give as much XP and killed you significantly faster than gold you didn't want to fight them, which is why wandering monsters were a bad thing. So, in OD&D's context, XP made for a very tight and gripping game, as you attempted to get to the gold without dying a horrible death. Sometimes you succeeded, and sometimes you didn't.

So why do a lot of modern games (video games like Mass Effect included) have this XP system without tying it to wealth, like it was originally intended? If I had to guess, I'd say tradition. With D&D being the definitive RPG of the first 30 years of the hobby's life, most people grew up with this system and had it ingrained in them. It's just a case of "this is the way things have always been done". The problem with this thinking, of course, is that whenever you change the reward system in a game, you change the very way the game is played. The rest of the mechanics almost don't matter in comparison to this one rule. If your game has a good and clear resolution mechanic it will be incredible. If there isn't a clear rewards mechanic then why bother?

...which where I'm at with modern D&D and, to a lesser degree, with Pathfinder. Great. World of Darkness at least reduces the amount of XP, but it gives no clear answer to the problem, either. It's like the major RPGs we've attached ourselves to have no idea how to be designed or something, and have forgotten the very basic rule of gaming: the game is as good as the rewards given in it.

So, here's a question: is it possible for 4th edition and Pathfinder to have this style of play re-integrated with little trouble? Now that's an interesting question...