In games which grant experience as a reward for recovering treasure, there is usually a rule that a character can’t level up more than once in a single session. So if you’re level 1, and you find a diamond worth 10,000 money, (which would normally translate to 10,000 experience), you don’t get to jump straight to level 3. You’ll reach level 2, and then stop. Usually the rules allow for a character to gain enough experience to be 1xp short of gaining 2 levels, but that’s it. After a big treasure haul you might see large amounts of your experience evaporate because of this rule. Possibly even the majority of it.
This is good and proper for any one of a dozen reasons. It maintains the pacing of the game. It cuts down on complications. It prevents players who may have missed a session from being left in the dust. It allows the referee to place large hoards of treasure without worrying that it will wreck the game’s progression. There are tons of reasons to recommend it. It’s a good rule.
But, from a player perspective, it’s always kind of a bummer losing out on those excess experience points. Sure gaining one level was nice, and you’re nearly guaranteed to level next session. That’s nice too. But gosh dang it, you could have leaped all the way to level 6 if not for that dumb rule! It’s enough to leave you weeping into your massive pile of money. #SuccessfulAdventurerProblems.
What if those spare experience points could be used for something? Not leveling, but something. Preferably something simple, since this issue only arises rarely. It would be too complex even to make the benefits proportional to the amount of excess experience the player earned. I think it should be treated as a binary thing: did you earn more experience points than your character could absorb? If yes, you get a cookie.
So what’s a good cookie?
- Free training. This is kind of the obvious one, right? Experience points are usually used to train a character in their class, so if it can’t do that, it may as well be used to teach the character something else. Excess experience could allow a character to select any training they qualify for, and instantaneously and freely gain it. Alternatively, if that’s a little too much, you might consider waiving only one of the two requirements: either the training is free, or it’s instantaneous.
- A skill point. If you’re not using any kind of in-game training, then most characters will never improve any of their skills. Giving a skill point to characters who earn excess experience flows from the same logic that training does. To the Fighter, having a 2-in-6 Tinker chance would be a pretty significant ability, since it’s not something they’re ever supposed to be able to get. But overall, it does little to impact the fabric of the game.
- A character’s total XP doesn’t only model their wealth of experience as an adventurer, it also models their social cachet. An excess of experience points could be taken to indicate a sudden surge in renown for the character. Perhaps word of their great deeds is only now starting to reach the upper echelons of society, or maybe their recent success was so explosively impressive that nobody can really ignore them anymore. For whatever the reason, the players should see some benefit from this. People of higher status should take notice! Land grants or titles should be offered. Or, on a smaller scale, better jobs should come the players way. Perhaps they’re able to recruit hirelings more effectively. And on that note…
- Hireling loyalty improves. There aren’t a lot of explicit ways to improve hireling loyalty. Knowing that you’re working for a winner can be a real ego boost. All hirelings get a +1 bump in their loyalty. Or maybe just one hireling, if the referee is stingy.
- The player may Auto-Best a single roll, after it is rolled. It’s a small reward. Simple. But turning an attack roll of 1 into a 20 feels pretty durn good.
- Temporary hit points. This is the one time I think the reward should be proportional to the excess XP. The character gains 10 temporary hit points for each level which they could have gained, but didn’t. So if they started at level 1, and could have made it all the way to level 6, then they get 40 temporary hit points. (Because they level up to 2, then get 10 each for levels 3-6). The temporary hit points cannot be healed, they last until the character takes enough damage to exhaust them.
This post was in no way inspired by the diamond worth 100,000gp that my 1st level character found in Courtney Campbell‘s Perdition campaign.