XP is Different
I use a few variants that intrinsically change the way XP is handled. Overall, this will create fewer headaches in the long run compared to the way the original XP rules worked.
Level-Independent XP Awards
In a nutshell: don’t use the original books to determine level progression XP. (UA 213)
This variant replaces Table 3–2: Experience and Level-Dependent Benefits (page 22 of the Player’s Handbook) as a way of easing the GM’s job of adventure design and the task of experience-point calculation at the end of an encounter.
Use Table: Hit Die Benefits to determine when PCs (but not NPCs) gain new levels, rather than Table 3–2 in the Player’s Handbook. To advance to a new level beyond 20th, a character needs to gain double the amount of XP he needed to advance from two levels below his current level to one level below his current level.
Experienced players may be alarmed — the XP totals on Table: Hit Die Benefits big numbers. But XP awards per monster are commensurately larger as noted on Table: Experience Award below. Regardless of a character’s level relative to the rest of the party, he gets the same numerical XP award, so the math at the end of the night is a lot easier. Table 2–6 on page 38 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is no longer used. Monsters just have flat XP awards, which are divided up among the participants.
For example, a frost worm (Challenge Rating 12) is worth 19,000 XP. If four characters defeat it, they each earn 4,750 XP (19,000 divided by 4), regardless of their level.
It still takes thirteen encounters or so to attain a new level. There’s still an automatic catch-up feature for PCs who lag behind the rest of the group; that 4,750 XP for the frost worm represents 8% of the experience points required to attain 13th level, but 14% of the experience points required to reach 11th level.
Table: Experience Award gives the award for a typical monster of each CR, irrespective of character or party level. For monsters beyond CR 20, simply double the XP reward for a monster of that CR minus 2. For instance, a CR 22 monster is worth twice as much as a CR 20 monster, or 620,000 XP.
For encounter design, no challenge should be trivially easy, all encounters should have a CR one level higher than normal, or two levels higher if it’s a major challenge. Despite this, the encounter only awards XP as if the CR was one step lower than the result. One tool you have available to you though is making variants of an enemy creature (such as minions) which can fill out the CR budget for an encounter. While a single creature can be an entire combat if you really want that, generally the side with the more turns wins (exponentially so), so keep that in mind.
| GM’s Note: We’re making a typical challenge for a four-person ECL 3 party, consisting of 8 wolf skeleton minions plus 3 average ghouls (ghouls and wolf skeletons are each CR 1, a set of 4+ minions have a CR one step lower). The XP budget is as a CR 4 encounter because the Game Clock is Different.
300 XP from 2x 150 XP per set of 4 minion creatures (Having 4 or more drops the CR by one step)
900 XP from 3x 300 XP per 1 average creature
Total XP = 1200 XP (exactly on-budget for CR 4)
Because the Game Clock is Different, this only grants XP as a CR 3 encounter, so 900 XP / 4 = 225 XP per PC
So 8 minions (which because they lack an intelligence score can’t do a group attack) and 3 average creatures. The ghouls go on initiative 13 and the wolf skeleton minions go on initiative 8. Odds are high that the PCs will win initiative and decimate most of the wolf skeletons in the first round with AoEs.
Crafting Magic Items
If you use this XP system, note that the XP costs paid by characters to create magic items will represent a much smaller fraction of their total XP, and thus creating magic items becomes much less “expensive” overall. If you believe this to be problematic for your campaign, consider increasing the XP cost for crafting magic items as detailed in Table: Magic Item XP Costs below.
Spells with an XP component also undergo a change in this variant, since the costs for those spells are set using the standard D&D experience point rules. Table: Spell XP Costs below gives a quick conversion to help calculate the XP costs for spells when using this XP variant. Simply multiply the normal XP cost by the multiplier given in the table to find the new XP cost for the spell. Use a similar formula to recalculate anything else that applies an XP cost. Divide the character’s level by 2 and treat it as if it were a spell level, using Table: Spell XP Costs to find the proper multiplier.
|Table: Hit Die Benefits (assuming no LA)|
|Hit Die||XP||Feats||Ability Score Increases|
|Table: Experience Award (Single Monster)|
|Monster CR||XP Award|
|GM’s Note: As per the Game Clock is Different section, every encounter should have a CR “budget” one step higher than would be typical for a party of that level. As per the Monster Challenge Ratings section of the Bell Curve Rolls variant, when encountering four or more of the same creature, reduce each creature’s CR by 1 step. Usually you’ll only have that many identical creatures if they’re minions, which have an even more reduced CR.|
|Table: Magic Item XP Costs|
|Market Price||XP Multiplier|
|2,000 gp or less||x1|
|2,001 gp to 20,000 gp||x2|
|20,001 gp to 200,000 gp||x4|
|200,001 gp or more||x10|
|Table: Spell XP Costs|
|Spell Level||XP Multiplier|
|9th or higher||x10|
This is a copy of the original craft points system but with some exceptions. No one ever needs the “Craft Masterwork” feats. The primary creator of an item can trade in 2 craft points for 1 XP for the purposes of crafting, and people can transfer XP . Remember that the XP Costs for magic items and spells can potentially be more expensive than what’s listed in the normal rules.
|GM’s Note: Craft points can reduce the time to craft, but cannot reduce the required number of Spellcraft or Psicraft checks (you roll all of the required checks at once).|
Optional Variant: Slow Burn
This is a valve, used to either introduce more equipment-based leveling to emphasize logistical realism, or in extreme cases to punish bad behavior of tables that only care about XP and min-maxing. Only use this for the latter reason if it becomes absolutely necessary, and then ideally ease off of it. Be careful how you tell your players that you’re doing this.
Essentially, the amount of teamwork, synergy, effort, luck, and ingenuity that was displayed by the party during the encounter determines what percentage of the encounter’s normal XP award gets distributed to the party. If the players themselves give a rote, unimaginative, selfish, lazy, and routine treatment to the encounter, it will result in the party only getting a fraction of the encounter’s normal XP award. This scales between 50% and 100%. Naturally, stomping a combat encounter in the first round (a.k.a. “Rocket Tag”) will generally result in the party only gaining half of the normal XP award. This would normally be a huge problem for crafter-type characters, but the Craft Points system described above mitigates that concern.
If the players are being as good or effective as they think they can considering their inexperience with the game or setting, give the party 100% XP and give advice on how to be more effective. If you’re teaching the game to a new player, consider giving out a somewhat reduced party-wide XP percentage for a few sessions so that the party doesn’t hit level 2 too fast and gain even more complexity (which might frustrate a new player even more).
Treat the number of craft points that you earn from HD and feats as a “Craft Points Maximum”. Your number of craft points cannot exceed this number for any reason. Encounters can inspire your ability to craft. After every encounter, if something the party crafted played a significant role, everyone in the party that has an item creation feat will regain craft points equal to any XP lost to the Slow Burn variant.
Optional Variant: Feats Start Out Locked
You can make PC feats in Hyperion Voyages a bit different than in typical D&D 3.5. Because of Pathfinder-Style Character Building, you get significantly more of them. In this variant designed to reduce the amount of feats players have to memorize, PC feats (including feats you get from other sources such as class features) start out “locked”. You still have them for the purposes of prerequisites, but you gain no other benefit from those feats at-first. Feats must be unlocked to get those other benefits, and be unlocked in the order that you earned them.
You can spend an awesome-mark to temporarily unlock your next locked feat for 1 round, and you can spend as many awesome-marks as you want on this (temporarily unlocking subsequent feats you have). You can alternatively spend an action point instead, but this counts against your normal limit on action points spent per round. To permanently unlock a feat, you must do something “sufficiently awesome and masterful”, which means you must do something awesome which also specifically demonstrates that you have…
- solid command of your character sheet (crunch, by synergizing your various abilities and details from your character sheet or thinking laterally about those abilities), or
- solid command of your character (roleplaying, based on your character’s personality or backstory or earlier actions), or
- a solid grasp of the setting as a whole (attentiveness, such as from asking about and/or applying setting knowledge), or
- a solid grasp of the specific locale you’re in right now (sharpness, such as asking about and/or applying knowledge about the story or NPCs), or
- a solid grasp of your character’s sense of place in their current situation (immersion, such as thinking laterally like you were physically there).
It must be both awesome and meet one of those criteria. Unlocking a feat could be an optional extra “kicker” to something which earned an awesome-mark, but being topped off on awesome-marks should not make it easier to get a feat unlocked. Temporarily-unlocked feats don’t let you skip over those feats when you permanently unlock a feat.
The GM should be much more lenient on unlocking feats granted from class features and racial features (including the bonus feat for being a human), as well as feats which are extremely weak or are largely a “feat tax” (but still start with those feats locked). In-general, the GM should try to provide situations which give enough more than enough opportunities for each player to unlock all their character’s current feats before they next level-up. This should happen naturally, especially during combat, but the GM is obligated to provide external stimuli in each encounter which provides these opportunities (players are allowed to ask the GM what that external stimuli was in a prior encounter, but not the current encounter).
Unlocking feats between levels serves multiple purposes. First, it helps new players (who might be overwhelmed with all the options on their character sheet) have fewer options they need to remember. It also helps incentivize players (especially new players) to do something awesome like described above and help them feel rewarded for doing that awesome thing. It somewhat helps slow down “power creep” for feats which are much more powerful than other feats. Lastly, it helps make the tone of the game more gritty by making feats feel more “superhuman”.
Only PCs have locked feats, not NPCs or monsters. NPCs and monsters already did their awesome things which unlocked their feats.
Optional Variant: XP Bonus Pool
If both your entire table is the kind that responds well to a stimulus of getting more XP or money, and you wish they’d come up with more clever ideas, roleplay their characters more, and, frankly, entertain the group (it’s important that both of these be true to continue here), you might want to consider giving bonus XP as a reward. This is done by taking a slice out of earned XP to proportionately reward the “best players”. This is a valve you can adjust to fit your needs, or turn off entirely by just not using this variant.
At the end of an encounter (I always award XP by encounter), I count up the total amount of XP to be awarded, and I total up the number of awesome-marks by each person’s name for that encounter. I multiply the total XP award by 90% and divide that out equally (assuming everything else about the encounter was equal). The other 10% of available XP goes into a bonus pool.
When I divvy out the XP in the bonus pool, I split it up proportionate to how many awesome-marks each person earned during that encounter. I try to always tell players why their characters got bonus XP. “Good job with that puzzle trap by the dungeon door,” or even, “Hey, great job roleplaying your character’s grouchiness when the high priest was healing everyone for free.”