Over on his blog today, Coyote takes a look at how experience is awarded in RPGs. This, no surprise, has changed over time.

Back in the ancient days of AD&D 1st ed., x.p. was doled out for two things. First, naturally, was bopping monsters. The other was the value of all the treasure you managed to haul out of the dungeon.

The award for treasure was a quick and dirty way for DMs to hand out rewards without having to ponder how much experience a particular “quest” was worth. Especially as the “Dungeonmasters Guide” was a bit vague on how to do it.

This sort of thing turned up in a bunch of early CRPGs. Why not? Most of them didn’t have a “quest” system in place, and they were all taking after AD&D in many ways anyhow.

Over time, that changed as games became more elaborate and “do this for me” became a prominent feature of the typical CRPG. Now, experience is given for critter kills and running errands.

Of course, there are exceptions. The Elder Scrolls naturally come to mind, where a skill system takes the place of the usual “x.p./level up” mechanic. As Coyote points out, this method has its drawbacks. We’re all familiar with, for instance, sitting in a safe place and casting certain spells over and over again. Or prancing through meadows while picking posies ;)

While Coyote favors the “grind” system of “kill/loot/level” for advancing characters, I don’t mind if developers come up with novel ways of improving the PC. Provided that the implementation is well-thought-out and actually works.

The worst example in my experience was Bethesda’s Battlespire. Trapped in a large building (the spire), you had to make your way up, one level at a time. At the end of each level, you received a fixed amount of points.

What you did had no effect on that. Kill everything. Kill nothing. Kill some. Solve puzzles. It didn’t matter; the award at the end was the same. It was hardly worth playing, as you had no sense of accomplishment. Fortunately, this approach died a deservedly-quick death.

Some of this may sound familiar, as we talked about character improvement in A Skilled Mechanic. There we looked at what’s done after the level up has happened.

Here, though, we ponder the question: is there a better way to advance besides “the grind” that gives experience points, or the “skill system” (which still goes by level) that targets specific abilities?

If we don’t use points or usage, how can we measure the progress of our alter egos? What rewards would be given for those little side jobs? Would combat even be worthwhile? IS there a better way, or are we stuck with what we have now, with a few variations on the same old themes?

Same Old Grind on Coyote’s blog