Are you experienced? – Some ideas for an alternative XP system for Old School games

When we played Caverns of Thracia using the Rules Cyclopedia a few years ago I went nuts over the old school xp system, and ever since I’ve been thinking of a good way to solve it. For a while I was going for Akrasia’s house rules variant in Crypts & Things (also on Akrasia’s blog, here). Then, I started meddling with OpenQuest 2 (a d100 variant) and was very pleasantly surprised, as the system presented there was the best I’ve seen for d100 games. The more I thought about it, I think it will work just fine for Old School d20 games as well, with some tweaks.

So, here’s my ideas, based on OpenQuest 2 (d101 games) and Renaissance (Cakebread & Walton). Basically, I wanted to get away from xp for monsters and above all, xp for gold. Why? Because if killing monsters and take their loot is the only thing that will yield xp, then that what’s the PCs will do. Exclusively, in some games. Other that that, the whole xp economy makes the game feel like “Papers & Paychecks”, to paraphrase the DMG.

Alternative XP rules for Ye Olde Game

Improvement Points, not Experience Points

In the first stage, xp is gone, replaced by Improvement Points (IP). This is what you get, and then you can “buy” xp with them.

These are the things you get IPs for:

Participating in a game session: 1
Reward for showing up and playing with the buddies.

Minor goal achievement: 1
Minor goal achievement examples: Minor, but important goals such as: finding out whodunnit, sneaking past the cultist guards, impressing the princess etc.

Major goal achievement: 2
Major goal achievement examples: Catching the guy whodunnit, stealing the blasphemous item the cultists were guarding, having a relation with the princess etc.

Über goal achievement: 3-4
Über goal achievement examples: This is only for achievement of overarching campaign goals, like finishing a difficult adventure, banishing the most evil demon, saving the Kingdom etc.

Being the player that helped the others have the most fun: 1
The players vote for the session’s top player!

Monster xp (optional): Monster HD minus PC level = IP
If you use Monster xp, then it follows that it’s only by defeating monsters that are more powerful than the PCs, that will yield IPs. Alternatively, use Monster HD minus mean PC level.

Buying xp with IP

Each IP is worth: 100 xp × current level +1

(Example: For a 3rd level PC each IP is worth 400 xp). In my opinion, average IP/session should be 2-5 or something like that.

You will want to adjust exactly how many xp each IP is worth in your game, depending on how fast you want the PCs to level up, and what rule set you use. The table below shows xp needed for the various levels and the progression of IP vs. xp value/level. Also shown is the number of sessions needed to level up using the rate above and assuming an IP “income” of 5 IP/session. The xp table is from Fantastic Heroes & Witchery (FH&W), and the numbers in parentheses in the right column is corresponding values if Swords & Wizardry Complete is used (Fighter table).


Level xp for this level 1 IP worth in xp No of sessions needed to next level (assuming 5 IP/session)
1 0 100 4 (4)
2 2000 300 3 (2.5)
3 4500 400 5 (4)
4 10000 500 10 (6.5)
5 25000 600 16.5 (10.5)
6 50000 700 28.5 (18)
7 100000 800 50 (25.5)
8 200000 900 66.5 (57)
9 300000 1000


FH&W in the example use a 13-level system, so xp demands go up faster than in most Old School variants. In the table below I’ve collected xp (fighter) from some different games.

Level FH&W B&T LL S&W
1 0 0 0 0
2 2000 2000 2035 2000
3 4500 4000 4065 4000
4 10000 8000 8125 8000
5 25000 16000 16251 16000
6 50000 32000 32501 32000
7 100000 64000 65001 64000
8 200000 128000 120001 128000
9 300000 250000 240001 256000
10 600000 500000 360001 350000
11 900000 750000 480001 450000
12 1200000 1000000 600001 550000
13 1500000 1250000 720001 650000
14 1950000 1500000 840001 750000


As you can see, the power curve differs some, but as a rule xp needed to level up increase a lot as levels go up. Traditionally, this has been handled by (i) handing out more and more treasure, (ii) increasing monster difficulty (and I still think the xp:s for monsters defeated are ridiculously low). Using this system, the same problem persist. My solution is either (i) hand out more IP, (ii) increase the IP xp worth over time, or accept that it will take long time to level up after some time.
The approach below would smooth out the increasing xp curve some:

Each IP is worth:
Level 1-5: 100 xp × current level +1
Level 6-10: 200 xp x current level +1
Level 11-15: 300 xp x current level +1

Yet another way is to skip the xp entirely and use the IP directly by assigning a certain required number of IP to level up, for example 20 IP between each level if you want a flat level increase rate. Or make your own IP Table:


Level IP to next level
1 10
2 10
3 15
4 15
5 20
6 20
7 25
8 25
9 30


The more mathematically inclined may want to compute the original algorithm behind the progression rate the xp tables of their preferred game, and apply the same rate in IP instead.

So. Food for thought, huh?

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