XP is Different

( ⇪ Adventuring Variants )

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 characters 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. 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.

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.

XP Costs

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
1st 0 1st
2nd 1,000
3rd 3,000 2nd
4th 6,000 1st
5th 10,000 3rd
6th 16,000
7th 24,000 4th
8th 36,000 2nd
9th 52,000 5th
10th 76,000
11th 110,000 6th
12th 160,000 3rd
13th 220,000 7th
14th 320,000
15th 440,000 8th
16th 640,000 4th
17th 890,000 9th
18th 1,300,000
19th 1,800,000 10th
20th 2,600,000 5th
Table: Experience Award (Single Monster)
Monster CR XP Award
1/8 37
1/6 50
1/4 75
1/3 100
1/2 150
1 300
2 600
3 900
4 1,200
5 1,800
6 2,400
7 3,600
8 4,800
9 7,200
10 9,600
11 14,000
12 19,000
13 29,000
14 38,000
15 58,000
16 77,000
17 120,000
18 150,000
19 230,000
20 310,000
21 460,000
22 620,000
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
1st-3rd x1
4th-6th x2
7th-8th x4
9th or higher x10


If anyone particularly distinguishes themselves during an encounter (or in the time before an encounter), put a checkmark by the character’s name on a sheet, or hand them a token of some kind and call that an “awesome-mark”. When someone does something particularly inventive or interesting in any situation, they get a check mark, too. In the rare case where someone really obstructs play, I might erase a mark. I do not award awesome-marks for getting lucky on a damage roll or being the one to finish off a creature in battle. A player can as many awesome-marks as twice their character’s ECL.

You spend your awesome-marks to inspire other PCs. A player can spend awesome-marks (up to half their character’s ECL per roll, rounded up) to for each one spent give a +1 bonus on another PC’s 3d6 roll ( Bell Curve Roll). The recipient of this inspiration must be conscious, however. You can give them the bonus before their roll (enabling them to potentially improve a choice of pressing their luck), or after their roll (such as if their roll was really low and you want to boost it) but prior to the GM announcing or acknowledging the result of the roll (such as a hit or miss). A player can grant this bonus to that other PC even if their own character is not conscious or present with the recipient.

You can improve this inspiring bonus to +2 per awesome-mark spent by giving context to that inspiration. Anyone at the table can give an in-character context on why your character is able to give that bonus to the recipient. This context must be phrased as “remember earlier when…” or something similar where your character helped the recipient in a way which is plausible for your character to have done (such as during downtime), relevant to the current roll, and is a unique justification within that session (you can’t use the same justification twice in the same session). Whether your explanation is “plausible”, “relevant”, or “unique” is up to GM discretion. For example, to give a bonus on a Heal check, the giving player might say “remember around the campfire last night when I showed you how to properly dress a bandage?” The receiving character then “remembers” something the giving character did that would warrant that one-time bonus now.

If a context for the improved bonus was directly roleplayed out ahead of time (such as taking time the previous in-game night to roleplay out a scene together where you were sparring with another PC), the roll gets an additional +4 circumstance bonus, once-per-player that session (or the next session, at GM discretion). Any specific roleplayed context can only apply its effects to one session per campaign (so you can’t use the same roleplayed context again on another roll, or redo the roleplay to get the bonus again).

Awesome-Marks and Action Points

If the campaign uses action points, players who distinguish themselves in a session recover action points.

Prior to all the players reaching ECL 3, each PC gets one action point back when they arrive at the session if they #1 show up at all this session AND #2 showed up at a reasonable time for the previous session. Also, at the end of each session the player who won the most awesome-marks that session immediately recovers an action point (to a maximum of “5 + 1/2 ECL”). If there’s a tie, all tied players get an action point back. Once all players reach ECL 3, no one “directly” recovers action points for getting awesome-marks or showing up.

Once all players reach ECL 3, at the end of each session you as a player may choose to reward another player by spending an awesome-mark to give that other player an action point. However, you can only do this once per session, and you must identify something they did that session that did not earn them an awesome-mark at the time (but you feel should have). If the GM also agrees that they should have gotten awesome-mark at the time, you spend the awesome-mark but instead you and the other player both each gain an action point, and the other player gets the awesome-mark the GM should have given them earlier.

To put it another way, an awesome-mark can either be spent to give a bonus to another player’s roll (potentially a huge bonus), or saved until the end of a session in order to give another player (and potentially also yourself) an action point, or just saved for a later session. If your game is playing with the optional “locked feats” variant (see below), an awesome-mark can also be spent at the start of your turn to unlock your next locked feat for 1 round, and unlike action points there’s no limit to how many awesome-marks you can spend on this option.

Craft Points

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 to punish bad behavior of tables that only care about XP and min-maxing. Only use this 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.

The Slow Burn method’s intention is to penalize bad behavior. 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.

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 75% and divide that out equally (assuming everything else about the encounter was equal). The other 25% 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.”

XP is Different

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