Thursday, February 4, 2010

Frontier Experience Points

This is perhaps the most potentially controversial rule modification that I envisioned for use in an unexplored wilderness setting, so I’ll get it out of the way early to see if I’m completely off the beam here.

I want to introduce a new form of experience points in the setting. These points are completely unassociated with experience rewards for treasure and slaying monsters, and are instead awarded for successfully navigating and surviving the wilderness. They are kept track of separately from normal experience and are abbreviated “FXP” or “Frontier Experience Points.”
FXP is a method to determine how much acumen each PC has regarding the outdoors. As a character earns FXP points, he gains small bonuses and modifiers to accomplishing tasks associated with frontier life and survival. Examples of these bonuses include a +1 bonus to hunting or foraging rolls; a +1 bonus to saving throws to survive outdoor calamities (avalanche, frost bite, lightning strike, etc.); a base chance to craft survival tools in the wild; a base chance to set traps; a bonus to avoid becoming lost, and even a potential +1 gain to Wisdom or Constitution scores.

Each bonus would be gained when the PC reaches a particular number of FXP, but, unlike character classes, there is no actual “level gain,” merely the acquiring of a new bonus and the adding of a new notation to the character’s record sheet. Right now, I’m thinking of using the progression table from 1st edition Gamma World as a base to determine when new bonuses and modifiers are acquired. This breaks down to the following:

3000 FXP
6000 FXP
12000 FXP
25000 FXP
50000 FXP
100000 FXP
200000 FXP
500000 FXP
1000000 FXP

Continuing with Gamma World as base model, I’ve also decided that the modifier each character gains upon reaching each tier of Frontier Experience would be randomly determined by rolling on a table. Thus, one character might gain a bonus to hunting roles upon earning 3000 FXP, while another might enjoy a bonus to outdoor saving throws. While I think the random method helps maintain the illusion that the PCs are picking up knowledge and survival skills through “in the field” learning rather than by formal instruction, I must admit I also just enjoy a good random PC table too.

So how does one earn FXP? The answer is: By survival, exploration, and successful completion of frontier tasks. What follows are examples of FXP rewards based on completed tasks. I’m not wedded to these numbers at the moment and they’re just serving as placeholders, but it will give you an idea of what I’m thinking.

Exploring and mapping one 5-mile hex (requires 1 full day of activity): 100 FXP
Successfully bringing down game for food: 20 FXP per Hit Die of the animal
Trapping animals for profit: 1 FXP per gold piece value of pelt
Surviving an outdoor calamity (landslide, avalanche, blizzard, forest fire, etc.): 50 FXP
Discovering a Point of Interest (borrowed from an idea by J. Rients): Variable based on accessibility and prestige
“Going Wild” (survival in the outdoors with no gear other than a knife): 25 FXP per day

There could be more categories added as inspiration hits.

I enjoy the idea of rewarding the PCs for surviving in the wild, but not advancing them in levels. This way, I can also have crazy prospectors and trappers in the wild who might only be 2nd or 3rd level NPCs, but still able to survive the challenges of wilderness living.

So what do you think? Too crazy of an idea or just crazy enough to work?


Vanadorn said...

I like it MIke - but it adds another layer of complexity.

LL - is that like BXD&D or 1st edition? Reason I'm asking - if it's like 1st edition who don't you just (for PC's) do something simple without skills such as:

Druids, Rangers, Barbarians, Bards = Frontier XP Level bonus chance equal to their character level (6th Druid gets +6)

Other classes get half their char level bonus chance (6th Mage gets +3).

For NPCs - I can't answer that. For myself I've adopted the Commoner, Expert, Warrior, Noble overlay for the non-classed people of my world. So Grimsby Beartrapper, the wild woodsman who trades in Flatrock every 2 weeks for pelts and scrub would be an 8th lvl Expert - and in the above example without skills I'd just give him a flat +8 on any outdoorsy stuff.

Using your own words - Keep it Simple!


Chris said...

My initial thought was "Nah, too much extra faff". But upon sober reflection it actually seems a pretty logical way of doing things.

Used as an XP system in and of itself FXP has the potential to make a pure wilderness survival/exploration game (little standard dungeon encounter combat, the treasure is the products of the wilderness) viable, rather than "lost in the wilds" trope just being a roadbump in the way of the next looting spree.

The PCs have the potential to advance in abilities relevant to what they've been doing, thereby neatly avoiding awkward "Trapped my 60th muskrat, am suddenly a better wizard. Hmmmm..." dissonance.

RL wilderness survival Hobbit Ray Mears would approve. ;)

Just please don't go down the 'track every calorie' RPG route that Neal Stephenson satirised in Cryptonomicon. ;)

Joshua Macy said...

The progression seems too slow. A +1 just isn't something to get that excited about, and you get a total of 7 of them for (voice=Dr. Evil) One... Million... Experience. It doesn't seem worth the book-keeping, and I think if I were a player I'd resent having to track 50 pts here, 20 points there for the very rarely earned and even more rarely applied (because rather fine-grained) 5% bonus.

Michael Curtis said...

For clarification's sake, let me make clear that this is intended for use with a specific type of campaign: Man vs. Wilderness. It's not intended for your average D&D campaign where civilization is just a day or two away. This is for a campaigns where a month may pass before the PCs see a friendly trading post.

It is also assumed that B/X or Labyrinth Lord or OD&D is the rule set used, so there are no "outdoorsy" classes like rangers or druids. Depending on your campaign's elves, you might give them a free roll on the FXP Bonus chart at 1st level to represent some outdoor survival skill. There are also no NPC classes other that Normal Human, PC classes or Specialists for Hire.

As for the relative minor bonus +1 or +2 over time, remember many of these tasks determine success on a d6 roll, not a d20. So a +1 or +2 bonus is rather sizable.

Joshua Macy said...

If it's going to be the focus of the campaign all the more reason to have more, and more interesting, advancement. In a dungeon-centric campaign 1,000,000 XP will advance you 14-17 levels in LL, each of which will give you pluses, often in more than one thing, as well as new spells and eventually the ability to create a stronghold or equivalent. By a million XP a Thief, for instance, has gone to 99% in 6 abilities and 83% in the 7th, as well as increases in save and hit dice. Since you'd have to explore about 1/6 of Europe 5 miles at a time to get that million xp...



Timeshadows said...

I like the feel of it, but then see that guideline being used for every intensive course of action (Diplomacy, Crafting, etc.) and then you do have a skill system on your hands --although that isn't necessarily a bad thing if one only tracks one sort (a Prime Sphere, if you will) of _XP.

Anything with more 1st Edition Gamma World is a great thing. :D

Matthew Slepin said...

The idea of two different XP-types strikes me as too much. I would go ahead and make it just regular XP. By adjusting the rewards of exploration vs. killing things vs. taking their stuff, you can encourage whatever activity you want.

Since the point of this campaign is to be a Frontiersman, then you can just say that you add your level (or half your level or a third or whatever) to any wilderness type rolls (lighting fires in the rain, hunting for food, etc.). That way you keep the simplicity, but get the same result.

Blair said...

I like it, but recently I have been all about "alternative Xp setting-dependant mini-games."

I'm doing something similar for the Planet Algol skyship piloting rules...but I basically just ripped it off of Sean Will's work.

Age of Fable said...

I like it, but I can see how it could lead down a slippery slope. For example shouldn't halflings and elves be better at this stuff? Why don't you have 'city experience'? And so on.

One way you could do it in a wilderness-oriented campaign is to have these as ways to add to general XP, and everyone gains more of these abilities as they go up in level.

Another option, for a more general campaign, could be to have a system of background professions, and have these powers as the abilities given to characters with particular backgrounds.

Tenkar said...

I don't know if its needed, but when has that ever stopped anyone? ;)

it adds more bookkeeping then I generally like, but if the added work doesnt scare you away go for it... it looks like something players may really enjoy

Unknown said...

Interesting idea, however for OD&D/LL style game I think your adding too much complexity for too little return. But its a cool idea so I'd consider looking at it with the idea of stripping out complexity, or trim down the FXP to a smaller number of XP, say instead of getting 100 FXP you get 1. Trim down the totals the same way and it becomes more of a series of ticks you keep track of then an additional XP system. But thats me

redbeard said...


If I remember it correctly, Aftermath had an experience system somewhat like what you describe. You had talents in various areas (mechanical, etc.) When you had a critical success in a skill using that talent, your talent score went up... by .05 or something.

Over 20 years ago, so I could be totally off. And for all the detail (more is good and even more is cooler was our credo then) in the game, we mostly played it chemically altered.

Brenton Haerr said...

Definitely crazy enough to work! I'm already thinking of ways to incorporate it into my own sandbox game--which, by the way, features Stonehell (thank you very much!).

Anonymous said...

It would work better if your game system had EXP for each skill tracked separately.

I can imagine a list of 20 or so skills. You gain 1 EXP for every game session you use the skill, up to 3 skills. And the DM can award extra EXP in a skill if you did something exceptional.

You start at -4 skill in everything. You gain EXP in a skill and when you have enough you "spend" those EXP out of it to level up.

It takes 5 EXP to gain a level between -4 and 0. Once you're at 0, the cost is 10 EXP times the next level. So to get from Level 0 to Level 1 you need to amass 10 EXP in the skill.

You might find the 3 skills per session too restrictive. 3-5 is a good range, otherwise players will attack once with a knife just to raise Melee EXP that session.

The DM should give 2-3 general EXP per session, or more if the PCs do more stuff, and these general EXP can be spent on any skill even if they didn't use it.

This assumes a 6-hour or so session. For one-hour sessions you might want to stick with strictly the 3 skills and perhaps 0-1 general EXP per player.