Wednesday, June 10, 2020

One of those "Get off my lawn!" posts

Oh, YouTube algorithm, why do you mock me? As suggested to me, I watched a video on agency vs railroading by the DM Lair, and it was nothing too special. Agency good, railroad bad. The next title had me intrigued, though, Milestone vs XP Leveling in D&D.

So I watched it. Obviously this guy has an opinion that he's expressing, and that's fine. He's welcome to do that. But I find it funny that he looks like he's maybe 5 to 10 years younger than me, so while he brags about being a DM since his high school days, I can brag about being a DM since his kindergarten days. Maybe even his diaper days. :D

Dick-measuring aside, he says he played some 2E in high school but mainly played 3E and 5E in his bio. I'm guessing so, from the way he talks of XP accumulation as only something that happened for combat or story awards, and "keeping players all at the same level" to make play easier. He has the BECMI boxes on his shelf behind him, but from the way he discusses XP, it seems pretty obvious that if he ever played them, he never DMed them.

Anyway, he mentions that there is one single benefit of calculating and accumulating XP, that being that it works as a metric for players to gauge their success each session, and that it gives players a feeling of satisfaction. [Arguably that's two benefits.]

For drawbacks, he mentions a tendency to encourage murderhobo style play, the tedious nature of calculations for non-combat XP from "appropriate roleplay," awarding XP for "good play" is the same as milestone XP anyway, and that awarding XP for "good play" favors players who are better at role play which is unfair.

So his criticisms of calculating and awarding XP so far are really only valid for versions of the game that only award XP for combat plus recommend "story" awards. So WotC versions of the game/Pathfinder. Any system that suggests awarding XP for treasure bypasses all of these complaints except maybe that doing the calculations can be tedious.

He has a few more complaints. One, if you don't "budget" XP, players won't be at the right level for the next adventure. Um, that's only a problem if you're running a railroad (something he said was bad in the other video I'd watched from him).

The last problem is that sometimes players forget to add the XP to their sheet. Um, again, if you're running old school D&D, that's the player's problem, not a DM problem. And not every character needs to be the same level. Oh, but if you're playing WotC D&D, I guess you need to match CRs with party levels and design adventures for a party of 4 PCs of level X, not a party of X to Y players of levels A to B. But I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here, aren't I?

OK, so moving on to his discussion of milestone leveling.

The only disadvantage he mentions is that some players don't find it fun.

Advantages? Prevents murderhobo play. Awarding progress in the campaign (AKA the same as story awards just without the math). By telegraphing the action that will gain them their next level, players know what their goal is and can measure progress towards it. [Yes, action is highlighted to show that it's in singular not plural form...again coming right off his 'railroading is bad' video, this was interesting to say the least.] Players will not "goof around" exploring the world, they'll just head on their mission to complete the milestone.

Finally, he claims that it's just easier. And yes, he admits that he is basically running a railroad campaign and doesn't care.

Well, basically, with treasure as XP, it's the measure of success. We've all been talking about this for years, but there are a few other blog posts by others I've read the past week or so talking about it, then I saw this video. Gotta jump on the bandwagon, right?

Treasure for XP discourages murderhobo play. Why fight (and possibly die) if you can get the treasure another way?
Treasure shows progress in the campaign, and PCs always know what the objective is -- get more treasure! Sure, there are other objectives too, but loot accumulation is always part of it. And players can easily measure their progress by the amount of loot they're collecting.

Finally, I'll suggest that treasure for XP is easier than his super simple milestone system for the fact that you don't need to jump through hoops figuring out what the series of milestones are that will take the players up through the levels, or how many adventures they should have at each level, or any of that. Let the players pick their battles, and level up when they earn enough XP.

So he spent a lot of time in his video talking about it. I've spent plenty of time writing about it (and watched the video twice). And his argument really boils down to one thing:

He thinks it's easier to use milestones than to calculate XP. I'm sure he's right about that, but really, all the problems he lists aren't problems with an XP accumulation system, they're problems with the systems this guy has played.


  1. I would add that if you go back even farther to the Arneson Rule where 1 xp = 1 gp spent it further discourages murderhobo play (because we have to curry favor with folks in order to make deals to spend this amount of cash) and it further empowers players to choose their own goals by giving them a huge incentive to invest in the campaign world (literally). Frankly, as someone who has used the Arneson for years, it makes prepping a campaign easier than all the nonsense that is expected of DMs in the post-2e era.

  2. You know, there was a time when I played a LOT of D&D and I didn't own a laptop where I could pop up an Excel spreadsheet and quickly calculate X.P. Instead, I had to actually add things ON PAPER with A PENCIL and sometimes even use a (plug-in!) CALCULATOR borrowed from my parents (who used it when doing their taxes).

    This was called the early- to mid-80s. We played a LOT of D&D (mostly of the "Advanced" variety...that calculator came in handy when clocking in X.P. per hit point the monsters had). Is it possible we made mistakes? Sure...but not enough to make a huge difference, and in general we were damn meticulous because we wanted every scrap of X.P. possible to secure our (level advancement) dreams.

    I have zero respect for the argument that old school reward systems are "too hard." F that noise.

    1. I was just about to say that it's so trivial to set up your character sheet in an automated format (that's what we do with AS&SH, and even level drain is a breeze this way) or the very least use a calculator (app).

    2. JB - this post, my response to this video, is definitely reflective of your "softness" post from a few days back.

    3. @ Dennis:

      This post, and the prat who prompted it (yes, I went and watched the whole video) nearly made me write yet another very specific and pointed rant about the whole Milestone mechanic. I might still, if I can decide between titling it "Zero Respect" and "Zero F***s." Really steams me (especially the sheer hypocrisy with regard to railroading); "soft" doesn't begin to cut it.

  3. I have to say after playing Westmarches, that XP for loot is still a good incentive to be a Murder Hobo. "Umm... these dargons are Chaotic right? So ... my idol the Platinum Dragon might not actually be displeased if I rid the world of their heresy... right?"

    1. I don't really consider that "murder hobo" play. If you were thinking, "I only need 15 more XP to level up, better fight the next thing I see" or in general you just try to solve all monster encounters by fighting like in a CRPG, you might be a murderhobo.

      And Queeg, while invisible, had plenty of opportunity to try and steal some of the treasure before the dragons woke up. :D

    2. True enough. Furthermore, if Thjardis had actually known how to speak Draconic yet...

    3. Queeg was doing all he could not to poop himself at the sight of three dragons.

  4. It is truly amazing how little modern DMs think or ask of players. It's really not hard to write down a number one peice of paper and at the end of the night add another number to it using their phone calculator app. Keeping track of initiative (even round by round), encumbrance, supplies (torches, ammo,etc.) is not rocket science.

    My kids figured it out at age 10.

    XP drives player behavior. It is literally one of the groundbreaking innovations that created the whole rpg thing. In older systems it also provides class balance. Milestone XP works for story paths, so more power to him if that is the way his game is structured. I've decided that I can't control other people's behavior except by having a blast and reaching one player at a time.

  5. I finally got into 5e and am running Tyranny of Dragons for my kids (and my daughter's fiance). I do my best to keep the encounters and roleplaying up to speed so they level up according to the book's guidelines, but I've milestoned them a couple of times, too.

    I doubt I'll use milestone rules once they're finished with this module, but it's sure been handy for this particular adventure, especially considering their play style is such that the prefab adventure barely contains them. They skipped a whole chapter! Players, I swear. But you know how it is.

    I don't normally use prefab adventures (unless they're more of a sandbox than a railroad, like B2 and X1 were), but I wanted to wade into 5e rules a little at a time. They're about 2/3 the way done with it now, and I'm already itching to make my own adventures. I hope they finish this one up soon! haha

    I like 5e in general because it took a bunch of house rules (and overall play styles) we used to use and baked them right into the PHB. I had a secret-don't-tell-the-players house rule that closely resembled the milestone rules. It's not something to use all the time, but if you know your PCs are gonna get absolutely smoked later, it doesn't hurt to quietly bump them up to the next level if need be. Definitely not something I'd do all the time, though.

    I think you and I are about the same age! (I just turned 50)

    I started in the summer of 1983 with the B/X box sets (with the glorious Erol Otus cover art). My kids are in their 20s and 30s and I'm pretty sure I've got them talked into taking Ye Olde Basic for a spin once they're done facing down Tiamat. Fingers crossed!

    I dig your blog! Keep up the good work.

    1. Interesting observation, and it makes me want to consider how to do milestone advancement "right" since there are cases like this where it might be necessary or even preferred to do so.

      And yes, we're similar in age. I'll be 47 in December so a few years younger, but we started around the same time. I got the Mentzer Basic set in 1984.