Sunday, December 20, 2009


I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.
In addition to being one of the coolest lines ever to be uttered in a movie, Roy Batty's death speech at the end of Blade Runner speaks to me about the nature of adventurers. A good adventurer isn't just a corpse count and a treasure tally. Part of an adventurer's soul is wrapped up in the places they've been and the wonders they've beheld.

MERP and RoleMaster have this rule where you earn 1 experience point for every mile travelled. Since it takes 10,000xp to make level 2 in those systems travel isn't the most efficient way to make your sorcerer's apprentice into the next Gandalf, but you could do it. I like the idea of XP earned for visiting new and exciting places, but I'm not sure I like a flat amount per mile. Here's an alternative idea.

Get out your campaign world map (and key if you've got one). If you need don't already have a campaign world to set your fantasy adventures then I recommend starting with Points of Light and/or Points of Light II, but this method should work with any campaign setting. Okay, you've got the campaign map in front of you. Now imagine which of the places on the map are the coolest to visit. What places are breath-takingly beautiful? Which locations are desolate beyond imagination? What spots on the map have no mortals seen in generations? What places surge with magical energies or reek of unholiness?

Take your ideas and make a list of places from most awesome to least awesome. As an example, I'll give a quick look-over to the hexmap in the center of Geoffrey McKinney's mind-rending Supplement V: Carcosa. The following places strike me as particularly nifty:
  • Carcosa (the haunted city in hex 1507 from which the setting derives its name)
  • Mount Voormith'adreth (Shub-Niggurath's lair in hex 0402)
  • Crystal City of the Space Aliens (hex 0604)
  • The Shards in the Blighted Lands (hex 2303)
  • Lake Hali
  • Damned Isles
  • Thaggasoth Peaks
  • Yaglogthotep Forest
  • Icy Wastes
There's plenty of other interesting places on that hexmap. Geoffrey McKinney positively crams Carcosa full of eldritch doom. But for a small map, I think 6 to 12 places is probably sufficient. A larger Wilderlands of High Fantasy map could maybe squeeze in 20 or 30 wondrous places, while a large campaign map (like Darlene's World of Greyhawk map) could easily hold a hundred such locations.

Next think about how much you want to award pure exploration in your campaign. I find these sorts of decisions hard to make in the abstract, so here's the a line of thinking that might help: A newly minted PC decides to cross the campaign map to visit the top item on your list, how close should they be to 2nd level after such an achievement? Set aside any thought as to encounters along the way, we're talking here strictly about the effect of the experience of visiting the location. How changed will the PC be on their return from this fey place?

If I were to run Carcosa I definitely would want visiting the city of Carcosa itself to be a life-changing experience. So let's say I go overboard an establish a 2,000xp award for visiting the place. Once I have the top item set, I can eyeball the rest of the list:
  • Carcosa City: 2,000xp
  • Mount Voormith'adreth: 1,500xp
  • Crystal City: 1,000xp
  • The Shards: 500xp
  • Lake Hali: 250xp
  • Damned Isles: 200xp
  • Thaggasoth Peaks: 150xp
  • Yaglogthotep Forest: 100xp
  • Icy Wastes: 50xp
Obviously I just pulled those numbers out of my butt. If you want to keep the PCs focused on killing things and taking stuff or chasing Elminster-imposed missions, then by all means cut all those awards way the hell down. But assuming you like the idea of PCs climbing mountains just 'cause it's there then I feel you should offer XP awards comparable to standard murder and pillage.

Now, we can glam up this simple chart quite a bit with a special rule for some of the items:
  • Carcosa City: 2,000xp but must spend one night in city
  • Mount Voormith'adreth: 1,500xp for the first human to climb to the peak, 0xp thereafter
  • Crystal City: 1,000xp but must enter the Dome
  • The Shards: 500xp
  • Lake Hali: 250xp if Carcosa City is viewed in the moonlight
  • Damned Isles: 200xp for first island visited, 100xp per island thereafter
  • Thaggasoth Peaks: 150xp if mountains crossed, double if it takes two hexes to get across
  • Yaglogthotep Forest: 100xp
  • Icy Wastes: 50xp but 200xp for crossing hex 2210, "The Frigid Heart of the Wastes"
You can also do up special rules like "dwarves earn triple XP for any ocean voyage" or "followers of St. Salamander earn 1,000xp for praying at each of his Seven Shrines". And one could establish XP awards for non-location based wonders:
  • See a dragon fly overhead: 100xp but 0xp if pooped on
  • Ride a dragon: 500xp first time, half for each additional ride
  • Dance with the fairies: 300xp
  • Watch a city burn: 150xp
  • Shipwrecked: 100xp, but 0 if you sabotage the vessel
  • & etc.
Now to make this all work you need to keep in mind 2 important points. First, you have to share at least some items on this list with your player group. You can't create a feedback loop of action/encouragement if the players don't know what's going on. Hell, get them in on the ground floor. If you're using a well-known setting enterprising players will be happy to suggest ideas. Creative ones will make crap up, to the betterment of your campaign.

Second, when the players accomplish one of these goals, sell it. Break out that over-the-top poetic voice and use those fifty cent words. Have word get around, with peasants in the street whispering "There goes Lucas of the Amber Blade, he's the only man to ever cross the Shimmering Desert and return!" Most players eat that stuff up.


  1. I like that idea of experience points for exploration. I'll try not to get pooped on so I can keep the xp. What's the weapon speed of poop?

  2. That's a great idea, Jeff! I am immediatly incorporating this into my Greyhawk.

  3. T&T has a similar XP award for exploration. For dungeons, it's 100 XP times the dungeon level. Exploring the 5th level of the Toejam Dungeon would get you 500 XP, for example. Exploring non-dungeon areas can also net you XP, but that's less rigidly defined - the Mildly Dangeous Wood might be worth 100 XP, while the Deathwood Forest might net you 800 XP for exploring it.

  4. This is AWESOME! I am totally using this for my next sandbox campaign. This really puts poetry back into adventure!

  5. This is easily the best extrapolation on non-combat D&D experience I've seen in a long time. This is certainly a much better approach than arbitrary "story awards."

    It reminds me a bit of Pendragon's Glory awards; the points coming not just from deeds but also experiences and circumstances (getting recognized by the High King is worth more than a local baron, for example).

  6. I think this is a TERRIFIC idea. 1,000 XP for seeing the awesome Hellfurnaces, another 1,000 for standing on the edge of the Rift Canyon, yet another for trudging through the steaming swamps of Hepmonaland...

    Perhaps with the caveat that there's no bonus if your character grew up within 100 miles of a given feature.

    Top notch idea, Jeff!

  7. The Shadow of Yesterday (which was designed for the Design a Fantasy Heartbreaker Challenge, after all) asks the GM to do this for every adventure on a scene-by-scene level -- same thing, smaller scale. They aren't XP for *accomplishments*, but for *being present in cool scenes.*

    TSOY credits Warhammer Fantasy as a game that does a similar thing.

    I think doing it in an OD&D campaign, on the game-world level, as you suggest, would be a rockin' idea.

  8. Cool again, Jeff.
    I think the basic concept of giving the PCs xp for anything that will kickstart an adventure is good.

    To wit, a little varaiton on one of your themes:

  9. This is so stolen...

  10. Love this. Sharing it with the hippies over at, because this is exactly the kind of thing that they are into.

  11. Utterly brilliant idea. Mind blown...

  12. I just can't help but notice that you've done multiple posts where a spaceship is on fire :)

  13. Anonymous5:56 AM

    I now feel justified in not placing enough treasure in the legendary dungeon that will be the focus of the campaign, which I was going to make up for by giving T&T-style XP for uncovering specific secrets about the dungeon and its legend...

    A twist: Exploration Points are only converted into Experience Points when you get back to civilisation and tell the tale. After all, what's a good adventure if you don't boast about it?

  14. Genius! Very inspirational - thank you.

  15. This is a great idea -- and something I have never thought of (or seen used this generally) in all my D&D gaming since 1975. I'll be using it, but I will have to modify it a bit so the XP rewards are as enticing at 6th or 7th level as they are at 1st level. Perhaps a percentage of the amount needed to go up to the next level? I'll have to think about it.

  16. Settembrini8:58 AM

    I really don´t like that line of thinking. if it´s awesome, i don´t need no XPs to tell me it is awesome.

  17. I think this is one of the best ideas for non-combat experience awards I've ever seen. It evokes SO MANY good adventure stories, from Fafhrd and the Mouser climbing Stardock to Admiral Peary going for the North Pole.

  18. I really don´t like that line of thinking. if it´s awesome, i don´t need no XPs to tell me it is awesome.

    That's DM thinking. Players sometimes need big blinking neon signs.

  19. Randall...

    Don't use percentages... use actual numbers. Just make the really cool (read: really DANGEROUS) stuff worth a high XP value.

    If they are lower-than-necessary level when they visit the place, they'll most likely die. If they don't, then they should have earned every single one of those experience points.

    Giving a vasriety of point levels across a broad spectrum will give them hints about places they should go next and helps you prioritize areas in your campaign world that you need to develop sooner, rather than later.

    Just some thoughts...

    peace... RHM

  20. This is definitely something I'd consider integrating into my game. As an idea, it's pretty much awesome all around - but I don't want players to feel penalized for wanting to really stick to one moderately sized area or really flesh out one locale. Or for just wanting to make one megadungeon the center of their campaign, for that matter. It's perfect, I think, for a certain style of play - a style my players would enjoy. But it might not work so well for other, equally valid approaches to the game.I guess the megadungeon thing could be shoe-horned the way some of the other posters have suggested, but localized, low-magic, city or town based campaigns wouldn't work, IMO.

  21. In Piecemeal this was one of the first things I set up, adventure is about more than fighting, its about exploration.

    Thus adventurers gain both experience for days travel (based upon the danger, and the amount of uncertainty as to their path) as well as experience for reaching locations.

    From uncommon locations (the abandoned watchtower), to rare (the top of the matterhorn) to legendary (El Dorado) all the way to Mythic (the garden of eden) with broad guidelines of XP for each category.

    And it works great.

    More details:

  22. Excellent idea - I'll be stealing this for virtually all my games from now on.

  23. That is one of the fascinating thinks about the world of Minaria (from the Divine Right boardgame). Its a game that mixes hex-and-counter wargame with Diplomacy rules, but it has "scenic hexes" that serves no other purpose then to add flavour to the setting. Some of these hexes have colourful descriptions in the rulebook.

    Divine Right is a good game to role-play in. The map is huge (1 hex is about 50 mils), is has a lot of unique locals, and it has the right mix of sword & sorcery and high fantasy.

    In any setting, the exploration of strange and unique places should be a normal facet. Dishing out XP for it is also nice.

  24. Just an idea related to this, for those who have campaigns centered on the megadungeon--certain locations within a megadungeon would also qualify for these sorts of rewards, would they not?

    Visit the lost altar of Baal on the 10th level? 2,000xp
    Chart the underground river on sublevel 6b? 1,500xp
    Find all six statues of the Elder Kings of Surloth scattered around the entire complex? 1,000xp
    Fully map the Maze of Luxo on Level 3? 500xp
    Find the secret tomb of the Great Hobgoblin Trubbili* (Sublevel 2a)? 250xp


    Definitely will be using this, along with my normal "PC/player goals" based XP awards as bonuses.

    *WV: trubbili

  25. Settembrini7:16 AM

    "That's DM thinking. Players sometimes need big blinking neon signs"

    I have to think about that. I´m often a player, though. But maybe my DMness creeps into that.

  26. Amazing. I used to play the living daylights out of MERP, since it was my first game I ran. The fact T&T have a rule for awarding XP when surviving dungeon levels is also something I have used, bloged about, loved and talked about.

    For some reasons I never connected the dots. This is the same thing.

    Thanks for telling the obvious, Jeff! It was so blindingly obvious I didn't see it. Thanks also to Knightsky.

    Now I'm going to make this the way it's done when I run a game.

  27. TheDude7:51 PM


    This is a great way to award experience points in a pen & paper RPG and good way to get the PCs to look at different parts of your game world/sandbox.

    Admittedly though, this is something that has been incorporated in to Dungeons & Dragons Online - Eberron: Unlimited (The MMORPG)for last few years. Though I've never heard of it being done in a Pen & Paper game, I think has a lot of potential.

    When you enter a wilderness area such as the Cruellean Hills or Kothos Island it lists a number of 'Explorers' you have to find. For those two examples its around 12 or so. Like the old ruined bridge, or abondened and raided caravan or Sauhgain look out. You get EXPs for finding all of them.

    Some additional ideas for getting the players into this is simply have them be hired by the lord of the land or the City State Engineers to map out a region and explore it along with all the legends associated with it.

    Perhaps they join an explorer society and there are listing and awards for people to complete various tasks and locations.

    An third is perhaps they need to aquire rare flora or fauna from particluar unexplored areas of legend.

  28. Love it. Reminds me, for some reason, of achievements. Which is probably why I love it - I'm an Achievement Junkie.

    "Achievement Unlocked: Discover five new species in the Spires of Dragnor."

  29. This inspires exploration adventures ala Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo.

  30. Funny you should mention them, Panzerblitzer. I mentioned both of them in the beginning of my own blog post when I riffed off of Jeff's idea here and applied it to the World of Greyhawk. ;-)

  31. Ran a West Marches style 4E game, and eventually I implemented a rule very similar to this. Found it to be very successful.

  32. I like this a lot. It's an elegant way of adding in XP rather than hurling yet more monsters at the party. What's more I can make almost immediate use of it in a game I just started online. Thank you!

  33. This is revolutionary to me - into the Links to Wisdom