The case for awarding XP for gold

Once upon a time, you didn’t just get Experience Points for killing things, completing quests and making the GM laugh. You also got them for stuffing your pockets (and backpacks, and Bags of Holding) with flat round shiny gold pieces.

Then all of a sudden that went out of fashion and people pointed and laughed (and probably gained XP for it) at this much maligned corner of D&D rules history.

And y’know what? I think it’s time to bring it back.

Here’s why.

Somewhere along the way we have forgotten what Experience Points represent. They are a measure of your PC’s improving skill at arms and magic, but they are also a measure of your hero’s fame. XP is rewarded for completing a quest not because completing the quest somehow makes them a better fighter, but because word of their success will spread. As their XP (and level) increases their reknown will travel, bringing them greater and more challenging opportunities.

It’s a reciprocal arrangement; your hero’s XP increases as their fame rises, and vice versa. Your starting 1st level PC with 0 XP is known only by his friends (if he has any) and family (if he has any), and anyone outside the village of his birth will neither know nor care who he is. When they reach 2nd level (at whatever XP value that might be, depending on Edition) their success against Those Goblins and the Bugbear Bandits will have spread to a nearby village, and they come asking for help. As the XP rises into the tens then hundreds of thousands, their fame spreads to towns, cities, then whole nations know of their name. Bards sing songs about them, and as the PC’s level rises they even edit out the rude words.

Rewarding XP for GP taps into that. Your adventuring party isn’t likely to be known as Those Guys Who Killed 15 Skeletons, 3 Ogres and Wiped Out a Secret Cult, but they will be known for finding the Huge Ruby and dropping a shedload of cash on the counter of the local Qwik E Kill General Store.

Even in a world of magic, wealth brings fame – but only if it is hard won.  Your local merchant who has 30,000gp stashed under the floorboards could still be 0 level because he’s not gained it the hard way – unless the PCs decide to raid his home of course, then all bets are off and the GM is entirely within his rights to spontaneously make him a closet Necromancer. Which would explain the skeletons in the cupboard, I guess.

Awarding XP for gold also has the added benefit of sorting out the whole “magic weapon tax” problem thing. If magic items has a GP value, and GP gives you XP then it becomes a dead issue. Here’s how it would work. I suggest a rate of 10GP = 1XP.

Let’s say the party find (and by find I mean “kill the previous owners of”) a stash of treasure. There’s a Sword of Icy Death +1 (worth 1,000gp) and 3,000gp in coins and gems. Let’s keep the math simple – there’s four PCs so the Fighter takes the Sword and the other three PCs split the coins between them (1,000gp each). All four party members get 100XP  in Loot Boast reward.

It’s entirely up to the non-Magic Sword gaining PCs how they spend their share of the cash. They could buy their own magic weapon (but not get XP for it, alas. Buying ain’t heroic), save it toward their Stronghold Retirement Fund, donate it to an orphanage (which probably would give them bonus XP for being a selfless act) or do what most PCs do, and just keep the coins piling up on their character sheet. I have seen high-level PCs with millions of GP on their sheets, and wept. Either way, word of their purchase/wisdom/generosity/miserliness will spread, and that’s what the XP represents. Their added purchasing power balances with the benefit the Fighter gains from his cool sword. How they choose to use it (to aid them in combat, or not) is entirely up to them.

There you go. Bring back fame and reknown as an intrinsic part of climbing the level ladder.

Bring back XP for gold.

Thanks for listening.


19 Comments on “The case for awarding XP for gold”

  1. Sorry to be critical but…

    You mix up your case by stating XP is: “a measure of your PC’s improving skill at arms and magic, but they are also a measure of your hero’s fame”. I doubt many would disagree with that.

    So you spend the first 6 paragraphs stating what XP is, with examples and you state fame is rolled in.

    The rest of the article is then trying to squeeze GP in as an afterthought, and you contradict yourself with the example of the Merchant, either money also has an impact on “fame” or not – you can’t have it both ways.

    Best just to leave the old relic of GP = XP well alone, it’s naff.

    1. Have you played Skyrim? Have you bought things at the shops and noticed your Speech skill levelling up, and thus increasing your overall level? Congratulations, you’ve just seen a variant on gp=xp…

      I understand very clearly where this post has come from, and feel that the options presented by Greywulf certainly have a place to be considered and used if DM’s so which. Just because you don’t like it and think it’s naff doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t consider it.

      1. Consider away indeed – just as you have the right to point out peoples “right” to consider the idea we have the “right” to point out the flaws in it.

        Your Skyrim example: “Have you bought things at the shops and noticed your Speech skill levelling up, and thus increasing your overall level? Congratulations, you’ve just seen a variant on gp=xp…” No I didn’t, I just saw a character using a skill and be rewarded for using the skill (just like the rest of the game)… that has nothing really to do with GP=XP.

  2. Without XP for gold, players are encouraged to be stupid and fight almost everything they come across. Taking it away is what leads new-school players to lament that Thieves and low-level Wizards are useless, because they have so little to contribute to combat, and combat’s what it’s all about, right? GMs that want to counter-act that end up putting in arbitrary RP and story awards, so instead of having a relatively objective measure of how successful the players were (how rich did they just get), you have combat awards plus a completely subjective measure of how much the GM feels like awarding.

    Oh, and awarding XP for gaining a magic item is double-dipping, unless you’re running a game where folks can just drop 1,000 GP on a magic item at Ye Olde Magick Shoppe.

  3. During my 1e/2e days, granting XP for gold made sense to me to a limted extent. If, say, a party was seeking the fist-sized Ruby of the Crimson Kings, they should get more XP for recovering it than coming back without it.

    On the down side, though, was that granting XP for treasure quickly led to economic problems. A DM running only official AD&D modules who only awarded treasure listed in those modules, could reasonably expect fourth level heroes to have the means to purchase sailing vessels and similar absurdities, and using Gygax’s suggestions about Gold Rush pricing for local inflation only annoyed my players. As DM, I was in a tough spot – keep the treasure XP (allowing for faster advancement but creating ecenomic issues) or cut back on the treasure (avoiding the economic trouble but annoying my players by slowing advancement).

    When 2e presented the option of story goal XP, we adopted that approach and those problems disappeared. I could place as much treasure as I thought necessary (or could realistically be expected to be found), but the real keys to advancement were combat and furthering the campaign by advancing the plot, which meshed well with out style of play. Even the example about the ruby made more sense – instead of awarding XP based on the value of the ruby, it was based on recovering the ruby, which advanced our story.

  4. In my Lab Lord campaign, I give XP for gold wasted (not spent on increasing your combat effectiveness) and I have a list of maybe around ten suggestions: a small statue for a fountain: 50gp, a small public altar: 250gp, a small wooden shop: 300gp, a small one story wooden building like a tavern: 700gp, a two story wooden building in a village: 1500gp, a stone building in a village: 3000gp, a villa in a city: 10000gp, a stone castle 75000gp, and salaries for servants, guards, etc. They also like to waste gold on their equipment: a helmet that’s worth 500gp, for example. A cloak with ancient elven runes on it, for 200gp. All of this is not magical. All it does is advertize your wealth and power. My hope is that this will naturally explain how they deserve the recognition once they get to name level.

  5. IMHO, just having gold is not enough, spending it and getting yourself know by the merchants, populace, clerics, nobles, etc.. would get you “fame xp”.

    After reading Microlite74, i found this way to give out XP to be both fun and can be used for even more roleplaying opportunities. It also plays out the “fame” part of finding cash/gold/items.

    From Microlite 74 Extended :
    “Individual characters can also earn experience points from spending money found in treasures (or taken from monsters) in totally frivolous ways (e.g. wine, women, song, donations to a temple without getting anything in return, generic “training,” etc.). A character earns 1 XP for each 100gp (round down) so spent.”

    (note that M74 does not have the same XP table as 0e/1e/2e)

  6. Interesting conclusion. Of course it means that any adventuerer who is trying to keep a low profile gets no XP. Rognar the ranger is wanted by the Earl of Earlington for poaching a deer to feed his family, so he starts adventuring. He has his friends make purchases for him and secretly sends back some money to his family. And he’ll be first level forever. The King’s Teeth are a group designed to secretly perform missions that the King doesn’t want publicly known. The King doesn’t even know who these people are. His Majesty simply relates the problems he wishes solved to his gardener and the problems get solved miraculously. Not only do these brave souls not get fame, they probably don’t want to spend extra time gathering every valuable on the way out.

    What’s more, it brings up another issue. Exultus the bard is a master storyteller. He tells everybody about the dragon’s hoard he stole and the time he defeated the seventy-three theives of Dorregor. The stories are so good that soon everybody is repeating them. Everybody believes that Exultus has gained several fortunes and given away the treasure to orphans and widows across the land. His fame has grown immensely. So by that measure he should be gaining levels right and left.

    XP should be based on overcoming challenges. If they defeat the dragon to get the treasure, the PC’s should get XP. If they figure out how to sneak past the dragon and steal the Ruby of Regrets, the PC’s should get XP. If they talk with the dragon and make a deal to trade a herd of tasty cows for the Ruby, they should get XP. If they show up two minutes after the dragon dies in his sleep of natural causes, the PC’s shouldn’t get any XP no matter how much treasure they get.

    Challenges don’t have to be monsters. If the party is mixing with nobles at a party and trying to get them to repeal the sword tax, that’s a challenge. How much of a challenge depends on how many nobles there are and how hard it is to convince them. Getting rich can be a challenge, especially if they have a specific goal. Getting famous can be a challenge, especially if they are trying to change an existing reputation. Not getting famous can also be a challenge.

    The hard part about XP for challenge is that it’s subjective. You can’t put a simple formula on it. GM’s will sometimes make mistakes. The rules should give guidelines about what sort of challenges give what sort of rewards.

  7. As a DM since 1e, I really don’t miss this rule – it is, as someone suggested upthread, naff.

    As a player in Adam’s Skype game, my view is somewhat different ie YES! Bring it back now or we will spend the next 53 years at level 1!!!

  8. I’m really more interested in how this works when it comes to motivating creative encounter solutions. If you can get in there, get the gold, and get out before any of the monsters notice and avoided all that messy blood shed then it awards the players for having that successful encounter.

    It becomes trickier when you have a group of heavily good aligned PCs and the goal for them is in fact to defeat the dread necromancer and keep him from terrorizing the town. Getting his gold and running just isn’t an option. Even worse, what if it is a mindless creature rampaging? Is it so mindless that it doesn’t keep any treasure?

  9. @philo
    I can see how my post can be argumented, but :

    “secretly sends back some money to his family” -> gets XP, not a totally frivolous way of spending, but it’s not “selfish” , so reward in XP.

    “The stories are so good that soon everybody is repeating them. Everybody believes that Exultus has gained several fortunes and given away the treasure to orphans and widows across the land.” -> get’s no XP for storytelling, but the Lord of the Land will be interested in getting his taxes from all that “phat loot” he got from the dragon.. Not to mention the dragon itself suddenly interested how this Bard as “vanquished” him. ;)

  10. at the same time, all those “thieves of Dorregor” might not appreciate having someone blab about them.. and.. i guess you get the idea.

    1. If the dragon and theives were fake then they won’t come looking for him. And if he says he spent/gave away the loot in another land then this land’s king can’t tax it. And if the Ranger’s family dies so he can’t send it back he then gets no more XP, because he’s not getting fame.

      In any case the argument that loot=fame=xp implies that fame=xp and !fame=!xp (no fame means no xp). It’s a chain that stretches too far for me when there are simpler ways to go about this.

      And if you take Bill’s argument, then you would get more XP from ransoming the princess than returning her to her family. As you get away from the traditional dungeon exploration scenario you get weird incentives.

  11. I also like the idea of awarding XP just for accomplishments of the group, rather than booty and bodycount. With this, the players should have a big say in setting their own goals, to avoid being railroaded along from predetermined task to task.

  12. Excellent post. XP-for-gold is probably the most misunderstood rule in D&D’s history. Like the perennial complaints about how unrealistic hit points and armor class are, but moreso, those who complain about XP-for-gold often just don’t understand the rationale. (Those who understand it but dislike it: more power to you; play as you will with my blessings.)

    Your analysis still misses one point, though: in 1e and prior, most of your XP was supposed to be from gold. XP from monsters was extremely low. The result? Monsters were obstacles, not goals in themselves.

    1. I now understand the rationale, thanks to dedicated OSR evangelists. I just still think it’s and odd way to go about things and has a lot of negative consequences. I think it limits you to one type of gaming. If you are only interested in ever dungeoncrawling and never expanding your game, then more power to you. I think there are other ways to get the benefits of it with fewer consequences.

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