Tracking Experience in Various Game Systems
About Tracking Experience
What is Tracking Experience? In most role-playing games, a character that is controlled by a player (Called a Player Character or PC for short) will change over the course of the story and gain new or improved skills from how they started showing personal growth.
This can be done through the tracking of experience, in some games they are called experience points, karma, character points or various other terms. You either have to gain a certain amount of those and gain a upgrade, or you can spend what you receive to purchase an upgrade depending on the game system.
Here I will discuss a few game systems with examples of how I ran the campaign from an advancement tracking perspective since 2009.
Note: while is use Games Masters (GM) for representing the person running the game, each game usually has a different title for them. Such as Dungeons and Dragons uses the term Dungeon Master and Vampire uses Storyteller. Here I will use GM to represent person running the game for all the systems. I do the same with XP which stands for Experience Points, a measure of how much your character has learnt from an event in the story. Other games have different names for it such as Karma for Shadowrun, but again to keep it simple I will use XP here. PC is also referring to Player Character.
Ways to Track XP
There are many ways of tracking experience in the D&D games. and here I will go through a few of them that can be useful to know from either the players perspective of the up and coming game master. I will also add some thoughts on how they went in my games.
- XP on the Go: This is when you receive your XP when you finish an encounter (usually combat) and if you have enough XP to gain a level, you instantly obtain the features of the new character level chose. Some GM’s will allow you to add the new Hit Points (HP) to the character and prepared spells for a spellcaster. While this is exciting, it also holds up play, and with the amount of choice you might have available, can be overwhelming. This has the GM needing to have either pre-prepared all the values before the session, or calculate it on the go. It makes random encounters more of an administrative nightmare, and can unbalance the game if you gain too much XP or too little for the storyline.
- XP per session: Either at the end of the of the session or in the time in between games, the GM adds up all the XP from the game session and if the character has levelled, the player can do so between game sessions. While this means you don’t get to use the new stuff straight away, you do have time to make your character the way you want, and even research option. From a story perspective this can be quite jarring as you might be mid combat or adventure when you gain the level, and this can impact on the game play if you level too fast or two slow for the challenges. It requires the GM to be aware of how much they are giving to the players less so than XP on the Go, but more so that XP per adventure.
- XP per Adventure: Once a adventure is complete, you GM will award you XP and you can advance your character. While this gives you a set timeframe, not all adventures assume that you will remain the same level throughout. And if the GM is doing this, they will have to account for the level discrepancies in the adventure so not to disadvantage the players based on this choice.
- XP per Milestone: This can be done in multiple ways, and allows for the GM to plan for advancement, tailoring adventures, encounter and equipment to suit what the players need at their levels. For long adventures this can allow for levelling mid story, and for long campaigns you might even have set timeframes for levelling. This has become my prefered choice as it works well with planning and keeping players on track, as if they don’t follow the story, they don’t get the advancement.
Dungeons and Dragons Examples
Example XP per Session: For this example I had set up experience tracking, and day tracking for this campaign with the expectation that it would progress to the next gazetteer rather quickly. What I was not paying attention to is how quickly a character does level and when they do, how long it takes for this to happen as the characters reached Tier 2 quicker than expected, and being caught up in the story and not advancing the time enough we over played this setting.
- XP per Session: My next campaign I would improve on this, as I had an XP chart done in Excel that I was keep track of for all my characters.
- XP per Milestone: With the XP chart, I discarded it after working out a preference for every game year being a milestone to provide a new level. This worked out better than micro-management of experience, and removed the need for managing downtime in play as they can happen between game sessions. This removes a lot of in between game maintenance, as stops characters falling behind due to other commitments and not being able to make the game. This works well with the Downtime mechanic for levelling.
I have tried various versions of experience tracking over these games:
- Rise of the Runelords (3.5 converted to pathfinder) (XP per Session)
- Curse of the Crimson Throne (3.5 converted to pathfinder) (XP per Session) – Mythic Playtest
- Second Darkness (3.5 converted to pathfinder) (XP per Session) – Mythic Play
- Legacy of Fire (3.5 converted to pathfinder) (XP per Session)
- Council of Thieves (XP per Session)
- Kingmaker (XP per Milestone)
- Serpent Skull (XP per Adventure)
- Carrion Crown (XP per Adventure)
- Jade Regent (converted to Pathfinder 2) (XP per Milestone)
- Lost Lands Campaign Books (by Frog God Games) (XP per Session and XP per Milestone)
- Thassilonian Resurgence Adventure Path (custom campaign in Pathfinder 2) (XP per Milestone)
What I started with was a encounter by encounter experience tracker that had a high overhead. Once I started running more than two games a fortnight, I needed to streamline my game management, so I started to experiment with milestone management with these games.
This included mythic advancement where it was achievement based, then also milestone based.
The Jade Regent is milestone based on the adventure, and reaching certain levels when they reach that part of the storyline.
Thassilonian Resurgence is also milestone, but a timeline based one where at the end of six months from starting the characters train an level, giving two levels every game year.
I ran from 4th edition to 5th edition. The advancement was simple, you got Karma (XP) for every game session, even if you missed it, with 4 Karma (XP) per session, character who come in later, only receive the session Karma (XP) if they survive the first session, and then have to spend it using the advancement between sessions rules.
This has lead to a character growing with the group and filling a need they want to fill, but with a solid character to start with.
There are quite a few adventures in the setting that you can run, and they each have examples of the XP you can award using the idea of XP per Milestone and XP per Adventure as the main way of proving the Karma (XP) for the characters.
Star Wars & Genesis Examples
Example XP per Session: I have run WEG where the players receive a set amount of character points based on how many sessions they had attended multiplied by 5. This had a few outstanding characters who had been there from the start and many lesser characters who were not as powerful in their eyes.
- XP per Session: When I moved to FFG I moved to 10 advancement points per session.
- XP per Session: One I started again with trying out all the Beginner Boxed sets, I took on board the mechanic of motivation, and if a character achieved their motivation in a session they received an extra 5 advancement points.
Example XP per Adventure and XP per Session: The third FFG campaign was based solely around the Adventures, so when ever players would receive XP in the storyline, I would award XP for the story and add motivation XP were appropriate. Though I was also tracking Obligation, Duty, Morality and a new mechanic Force Awareness. This was tracked on multiple levels. The group gaining 100 in Obligation, Duty or Force Awareness would increase the group level. Obligation brings group bounties, Duty bring resupply and Force Awareness starts a group case file. Then 100 points are removed from the characters starting with the character with the highest value and those points are banked for later, any remainder is left. Once a character has 100 points banked in Obligation they have a personal bounty, in Duty they gain a promotion, in Force Awareness they have a personal case file.
I kept these notes by session, so had a little overhead, so I then moved it to a spreadsheet and kept track of all the values there so I could see the break down.
XP per Milestone: Dresden Files to Dresden Files Accelerated used a similar advancement where I had a milestone advancement planned for all characters to gain when the party reached it. Like Traveller, the planning did not become a long term game as players wanted to go back to Star Wars.
XP per Session: Running Fragged Empire follows a lot of the concepts I have used in other games, except it is a little more codified when characters reach a upgrade milestone after every three complete game sessions.
This has a few good points in that it will be easy to manage when an upgrade occurs, with the downside that it can happen very quickly mid adventure, and some sessions may have it take many in game years to reach depending on the story aspects as it is session based and not story based.
XP per Milestone: With traveller the expectation was to provide advancement at the end of every in game month, which means a low level ability can be upgraded a few times a game year, while a high level ability might take up to or more than a year to upgrade. This was using a combination of Traveller 5 and Mongoose Publishing Babylon 5 for Traveller.
A simpler approach to tracking experience has provided the following benefits:
- Consistent Player Character levels.
- No more farming for experience (killing just for xp).
- A higher focus on Role-Playing over checking every room.
Less time on tracking advancement, as I now only track the in-game date.
So moving to a milestone method has made running six campaigns at once a more enjoyable experience as the Dungeon Master. And while my games have moved to a week of Dungeons and Dragons, and a week of Pathfinder 2, I will be digging out my Star Wars and Genesys Future (a mix of cyberpunk, shadowrun and 80’s nostalgia) campaigns in the new year when one of the existing games needs a break or comes to a concluding moment.
- 2020-05-09 – Updated and expanded.
- 2020-04-26 – Structure.
- 2019-12-26 – Moved off the D&D gazetteer posts and expanded.
Concluding a Campaign: Star Wars
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Thassilonian Resurgence Adventure Path (TRAP) Campaign
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Locations: Seattle 2069
Storyline:Seattle Elections 2069
Campaign Gen3 Terrinoth:
Game Management: Annotated Stat Block, Character Creation, Choosing a New Campaign, Creating a Galaxy Map, Ending three year campaign, GM’s Luck Roll, Running Games over Skype, Tracking Experience, 2016 Campaign
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