If you play old versions of D&D or so-called old-school D&D clones, your character needs gold because the rules say that gold confers power. If you are a fighter, you get physically tougher and more dangerous if you carry gold out of caves. If you are a wizard, you learn more spells by doing the same. If you are a cleric, your deity loves you more for the gold you haul to the surface.
The game stalls if you don’t get gold. And that doesn’t make sense.
This complaint is as old as the game itself.
that the reason for getting gold is not greed. It is part of game mechanics. You need it to advance
(become more powerful). Your Lawful Good paladin
and your pious cleric and your ascetic monk all need to get loot to become more advanced in prayer and kung fu.
Gary Gygax knew the objections. In the Players Handbook (1978, p. 106), he provided this defense of XP for GP:
Gaining experience points through the acquisition of gold pieces and by slaying monsters might be questioned by some individuals as non-representative of how an actual character would become more able in his or her class. Admittedly, this is so, if the existence of spell casting clerics, druids, magic-users, and illusionists is (unrealistically) granted; likewise, dwarven superheroes, paladins, elven thieves, half-orc assassins, and the like might gain real experience from altogether different sorts of activities. This is a game, however, a fantasy game, and suspension of disbelief is required. If one can accept the existence of 12’ tall giants, why not the rewarding of experience points for treasure gained?
He goes on to say that real training takes place during a character’s “off hours.”
This passage shows that already by 1978, within four years of the birth of D&D, the rationale for experience points had come under pressure by the oldest "old-school" players. Gygax admits right here that it doesn’t actually make sense.Unfortunately, Gygax’s defense of XP for GP itself makes no sense, either. Giving XP for GP is not unrealistic in the same way that 12'-tall giants and magic spells are unrealistic. XP for GP is a feature of game mechanics used to give structure to the progress of the character, whereas the presence of giants and magic spells in the fiction of the game is a genre feature that has nothing to do with mechanics per se. The mechanics exist to support the fantasy, not the other way around. They are not unrealistic in the same way.
The presence of half-orc assassins and magic swords make perfect sense in the fiction of the game, whereas gaining power through pure loot does not. Any stupid mechanics could be justified by Gygax’s argument. “Hey, it’s all imaginary, so anything goes!” People make the same argument about hit points: “Just a fiction, after all. Once you have wizards and ogres, reason no longer applies.” But these are not comparable examples of non-realism.
Gold for training?
Some D&D players who follow this rule insist that the treasure itself doesn’t confer power-ups. The treasure is used to pay for training! It is training that raises your level. Some early games required gold to be spent for level-ups.
I have always wondered about this. Who are these trainers? Who are the lucky individuals who get paid thousands of gold pieces for teaching fighters how to fight just slightly better while jacking up their ability to take a beating (hit points)? Who are the people training the wizards in exchange for thousands of gold pieces?
Are they former adventurers? Then being an adventurer becomes a pyramid scheme. Just sign up for a dungeon expedition, bring back the gold, and pay another former adventurer, so he’ll teach you how to get more gold, and eventually, maybe, you can be like him one day, charging novice adventurers gold to train them to go into the dungeon!
Did you really enter the dungeon and risk your life with terrifying monsters and lethal traps so you could pay for fighter, cleric, or thief school? You need tuition for Hogwarts and you couldn’t get a scholarship?
Two articles appeared already in the October 1977 issue of Dragon addressing the problem and confusion about level-ups.
According to one of them, you get XP for GP spent. As this article advocates, fighters literally can get experience and level-up by spending their treasure on sex with prostitutes and drunken revelry. Needless to say, this is another kind of experience than what is normally required for gaining powers, but I suppose it is an attempt to recreate Hyborian or Nehwonian fiction.
issue of Dragon had another article suggesting special rituals to rise in level.
This shows that even the meaning of character levels was unclear to many early
gamers. In those days, level-class combinations came with mysterious titles like Superhero, Waghalter, Courser, and Keeper. Players wanted to know what that meant.
Well, we could give Gygax’s best answer: it’s all imaginary, so shut up and play!
Or we could use our imaginations to come up with something that makes sense. Practically every other adventure game, besides D&D, has done this. They already did so in the actual old-time period that players falsely imagine as an orthodox old-school of true and pure and correct D&D.
The early rejection of XP for GP
Plenty of gamers in the 1970s had rejected the XP for GP rule. This includes players of D&D before Gygax tried to create an “international standard” of rules that would stand the test of time like chess. (This was one of the two main reasons for AD&D’s existence.) Dave Hargrave, an influential West-Coast gamer, published his Arduin D&D rules (1977), rejecting the XP for GP convention. Tunnels & Trolls included XP for GP in its original 1975 release, but within four years that was gone. Here’s what Tunnels & Trolls said by 1979:
Once upon a time experience points were given for treasure and magical items found and carried off, but no longer! Properly speaking, cash is its own reward, and there is no reason why a character who stumbles across a diamond worth 10,000 GP, picks it up and walks off, should get 10,000 experience points. He has not especially earned the points, nor learned very much from it, and shouldn’t get the level bonuses … that usually go along with them.
reflects the consensus of the actual “old school” of gamers and game designers,
if we leave aside TSR, not the self-appointed “old-school” pundits of today who scold young gamers for not imagining their games right.
early games like The Fantasy Trip: In the Labyrinth (1980) and DragonQuest
(SPI 1982) do not even mention experience points for gold. They give
experience for success. Treasure was spent on training, but XP was given for
success in the “mission.
A better defense of XP for GP
DM David provides a rationale for the XP for GP rule far better than that of Gygax. He says it’s fun and realistic.
You can’t argue with fun. There is no better reason to play anything. Fun is the goal. If XP for GP is what you like and it gives you fund and the rationale is not an issue for you, then there’s no argument. Go forth and delve for gold, and may your character get more hit dice!
As for realistic, however, the idea is that gold is the most realistic motivator. Who doesn’t want to get rich? But the realism of human greed does not address the problem that so many gamers have with XP for GP. What’s unrealistic about it is not that people want gold, but that they become more powerful by getting gold. Gold is a realistic character motive, not a realistic rules rationale for character advancement in lethal power.
this way, the GP = XP rule does not support the fantasy of fiction that D&D’s
designers were emulating. It undermines the fantasy of fiction to such an extent that it has created a new style or genre of fantasy. It is now a feature of generic fantasy captured by games like Munchkin and in video games. If you play
Sonic the Hedgehog, you roll through monsters and dodge obstacles to get gold rings. The
more you get, the more powers you get. Sonic gets XP for GP.
Why are your characters greedy?
imagination gets stuck in game rules. You need adventurers to be motivated to
go into your dungeon. You put treasure in the dungeon, perhaps following arbitrarily
designed treasure types accompanying monsters, and you need those player characters
to risk their hit points to come and get it. So... I know! All the characters are greedy! That explains it.
Why do they need to be greedy? Because of XP for GP. Why do you give XP for GP? Because they're greedy.
Fantasy got stuck on rules.
DM David already pointed the way. Greed is a realistic answer. What he doesn’t point out is that the greed of player characters need not be tied to the rule XP for GP. They’re two different things.
If you want greedy player characters, it is very easy to come up with reasons. Off the top of my head, here is a list of reasons your character may want quick gold pieces besides level-ups or tuition at training camps and Adventurers’ Guilds.
- To pay a huge debt.
- To pay for a wedding.
- To impress somebody.
- To pay for an army.
- To pay off attackers.
- To pay for parties and debauchery.
- To buy more land.
- To buy back ancestral land.
- To ransom someone important to you.
- To pay for transit to a distant place or another world.
- To buy magical equipment, alchemical equipment, or the like.
- To pay for a magical medical treatment.
- To retire in comfort eventually.
- To buy a rare magical item.
- To buy a seafaring vessel.
- To invest in trade.
- To buy a rank or office.
- To cover a gambling habit.
- To pay taxes.
- To buy that castle in the hills.
- To satisfy a pathological avarice.
The so-called “Old-School” gamers today go crazy for random tables. If it’s really too hard for your players to imagine what makes their characters so greedy that they would risk their lives, without a rule that says XP = GP, then make a table of results like the one I just listed and require them to roll for their descriptive Greed attribute.
Readers, please chime in and add your own ideas to the “Reasons to Be Greedy” list. Then you too can drop the XP for GP rule and focus on fun instead.
Other reasons to go into dungeons
looking forward to using a modified version of Gillespie’s Barrowmaze with my
home system, which has super-fast, and random, character creation. As part of my preparation
for a multi-session megadungeon, I drew up a list of possible motives for
characters. Only one of them (number 3) is pure greed, although all may be connected with greed one way or another.
- Searching for somebody. Somebody important to you (or to somebody who recruited you) has disappeared in the vicinity of the Barrowmaze. Your goal is to find that person.
- Hired adventurer. Somebody (perhaps another player character) has offered you pay to accompany an investigation of the Barrowmaze. Will you get a cut of the loot, too?
- Treasure. They say the Barrowmaze contains hidden treasures, money and magic. You want some of that!
- Research. You study magic, ancient lore, or both. Ancient tombs offer you enough for your research that you are willing to risk your life to discover their contents.
- Mission. You have heard of the evil of the Barrowmaze and you hope to drive it back or destroy it, in the name of a lord or a deity or all that is good.
- Something to prove. A peculiar personal motive drives you to enter the Barrowmaze. Perhaps you enjoy deadly risks, or you want to demonstrate your prowess or bravery, or you are seeking fame.
- Hiding. You are afraid and you need to get away. You are going somewhere that the law, or some other inimical force, will not find you or pursue you.
for experience points, I have dispensed with them entirely. You really do not need XP at all.
Epilogue: Gygax drops XP for GP
By 1992, Gygax had left D&D behind and created a game called Dangerous
Journeys, which, as far as I can tell, was a flop. It is a
game replete with obscure abbreviations and shows few, if any, novelties
besides its peculiar terminology that so obviously tries to escape the lingo of
his earlier game. Thus you have HP, Heroic Persona, for PC, Player Character.
it comes to character advancement, Gygax was giving Accomplishment Points to
players just for showing up and playing their characters’ personalities. He
gives this example (p. 303) of distribution of rewards for play:
Here's An Example: Alyssa's player has been sure to attend every session of the game that she could and has projected her lively personality at every opportunity. The GM decides that she deserves to be classified as an "active" player for that adventure. The actual mission itself, however, didn't go quite so well, as two of the other HPs were killed by foes, and the remainder of the party had to be rescued by Other Personas, having nothing left of their expedition gear save the clothes and equipment on their persons. They did, however, succeed in destroying the altar of the EPs' deity (albeit by the skin of their teeth), and their adventure is thus classified as a "marginal victory" by the GM. Furthermore, the GM decided that this particular scenario counted as "long." As the base for "active" is 5, the bonus for "marginal victory" is 2, and the modifier for "long" adventures is 2, Alyssa would, at most, receive an additional 14 AP/Qs ((5 + 21 x 2 = 14) for that adventure. Note that had her player missed a session or two, her rating for participation might only have been "moderate." For information on spending AP/Gs, see page 134 of Chapter 1 1
In summary, Gygax was now rewarding players of his game, the product of his mature years of game design, for showing up, playing a role, success in the mission, and length of scenario. He does have a rule about spending money to raise your character’s SEC (Socio-Economic Status), but that’s not a level-up.
So much for XP for GP. Even Gygax knew that it made no sense.