Monday, 4 April 2022

Towards a 'Good Guy' Campaign: XP for Rescue

The tone of the OSR is predominantly deadpan in terms of morality. Shit happens. (At times, it is simply outright dark; at others, 'weird-sad'.) 

That's all well and good; but what about those times we want to try to be the good guys? (And here, I don't mean wanting to be heroes and acting out power fantasies; I mean a campaign based around trying to make a positive difference in the game world.) 

This ground has been covered many times, but it bears repeating: the problem here is XP for gold. 

I love the XP for gold system. It is in many ways the key to all of the doors - 'old school' play will emerge almost inevitably if it that system is used. But it has to be acknowledged that it is orthogonal to the kind of campaign I am describing. Incentives matter, and XP for gold primarily incentivises theft and looting.

XP for killing monsters is the obvious replacement, but would need tweaking to really incentivise a 'demon hunter' or 'monster hunter' campaign. Here, I picture a campaign world plagued by interlopers that are powerful but relatively rare; the PCs are a wandering band of do-gooders who try to track them down and do away with them. No moral ambiguity - these vrocks/hezrou/nalfeshnee have to go.

An alternative though, might be 'XP for rescue'. For every NPC rescued from a dangerous or horrible fate (capture, or a nearby threat, a raid, an impending disaster, etc.), the PCs win XP. 

Picture the scene: the PCs foray into the abyss. In a dark chamber whose walls, floor and ceiling resemble a night sky filled with strange stars and heavenly bodies, they find three innocent people being tormented by manes. Dispatching the manes, they receive 150XP for rescuing the captives (if they can get them back to their home in the prime material plane).

Or: the PCs come to a village that is plagued by a medusa. Tracking down the monster and dispatching it and its maedar paramour, they earn 2000XP for the population of the village they have saved (400 people, multiplied by 5XP each).

The trick is simply to come up with the appropriate formula: how much XP; ought it to be based on the victims' level/HD; does one receive more for the former type of scenario (rescuing captives) or the latter (freeing a settlement from a threat)?

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  1. I'm glad your head is in here. I play with my 7 year old and so far he wanders around like a little zen monk, giving up his found treasure and walking away from conflicts. It's actually really beautiful but I've wondered if I couldn't tease an agenda out of him.

    I know I've seen some kind of "karma table" for one of the old Marvel RPG games but can't find it for the life of me.

    1. XP for giving away treasure would be interesting.

    2. I found a Karma Award/Penalty chart from one of the Marvel Super Hero games here, maybe it helps :)

    3. Similar to karma, I wonder about a fame/renown system that operates in parallel to gold. In a society that valued positive reputation, you could use your standing as an alternative currency. For example, you could pay the trainer as usual, or after "recent" good deeds you've done (i.e., what you haven't exchanged yet) the trainer would provide their services in kind. It could even deteriorate over time to differentiate it from gold while having the same outcome of providing XP.

  2. I immediately get the vibe of an 80s show from this, the "rescue of the week" squad…

    One thing I'm working with often is the inverse of the "danger appropriate" XP-from-GP that Gygax' mentioned in the 1E DMG. There it was mostly about fractional XP if the guards – mechanical or monstrous – weren't challenging enough. But you could easily go the other way and tie it to social standing, too. So if the poor village of Santo Hobo hires you to guard them from the 7 Ogres, then the 471 silver pieces they scrounged together get a factor of 100 or more, plus probably the monsters you immediately need to overcome for this. Everything else, including all money you loot while doing that is extra.

    Can easily sell this as "renown", after all you're aiming for a "name" level, so you got to make yourself a name in the first place. Getting rich from non-mission stuff might even take an adventure, but then it's obvious that this is loot for loot's sake.

    1. Yeah, it's reminiscent of 80s D&D in particular.

      I'm not sure I like "danger appropriate" XP for gold, because it's kind of built into the way levelling works. 1 HD guards may be a challenge for 1st level PCs, though not for 6th level ones. That's okay because in relative terms the treasures they guard are worth 6 times less in XP to the latter than the former anyway.

  3. Good post, and it ties in neatly with my own musings on this matter on my own blog (

  4. for the last 2 years I've been running a homebrew campaign in which you get xp for rescuing people, among other things. the amount depends on raw numbers on a log scale for ordinary NPCs, and for major ones with a Fate Point pool, xp is a multiple of the pool. You get a +50% bonus if you also escort them all the way home.

    it's an explicit good guy campaign in which the player characters are members of a fanatic religious minority who happen to really worship the one true god and everyone else's gods are false idols.

    It's not just rescues though. other sources for XP:
    -fulfilling a vow (you have to spend a fate point to swear one)
    -discovering new adventure locations
    -fighting and winning, but very little unless doing so avenges someone you know or knew, and extra if you negotiate a lasting peace instead of killing
    -recovering relics and returning them to the community of the faithful
    -destroying evil artifacts like human sacrifice altars

    So far it's worked great although the players seem to find swearing a vow a big hurdle even though you do profit in a big way if you fulfil it.

    1. Nice - glad to know somebody has been playing seriously with this. You should write it up.

  5. This leads to the next logical step which is (and I have implemented it in other games successfully) XP for befriending enemies and making allies. Because the real treasure were the friends we made along the way.

    1. That might be a bit too Studio Ghibli for my tastes! ;)

  6. I love this idea. Cavegirl was thinking on similar lines a few years back and I've wanted to bring it to the table for a while.

  7. The flip side of this approach is to make the evils that the players confront visceral. I find that Delta Green body horror works. NSFW or suitable for children.


  8. I know there’s quite a bit of digital ink’s been spilled on tweaking gold for xp. Gus L had a nice post about keeping the “mechanics” of gold for xp with treasure (weight/bulk, etc) with different stuff:

    So it’s not an electrum hoard, it’s “delicacies (jellies, jams, candies, honey) and spirits” or not gold but some fancy single-malt in oh so breakable thin-glass bottles.

    I wonder if you can’t plug yon rescued captives right into the right formula (and the erstwhile do-gooders can make their own risk/reward decisions, or is that too mercenary of me).

    Say you have a simple 3-point scale for 3 attributes

    Fragility (how likely to get killed)
    Recklessness (how likely to get into trouble while ascending)
    Priority (how important on the surface)

    add it all up, and (admittedly not too high definition):

    Copper 5 points
    Silver 6 points
    Electrum 7 points
    Gold 8 points
    Platinum 9 points

  9. Rescuing a hypothetical fey “light in a jar,” from under a glass cheese dome. Fragility – 1 (being incorporeal and damaged only by magic weapons). Priority – 2 (a rare critter, but whatever). Recklessness – 2, he has been trapped under a jar for time immaterial and wants to roam around a bit. Electrum hoard or equivalent.

    Princess Leah, on the other hand, has a HIGH (3) Rec and Pri, arguably a medium Frag (those little nano-robots swimming around in her blood channeling the Velocity – I mean, you can shoot her with a laser, but there she is). Gold hoard.

    Villagers: Frag 2, Reck 2, Pri 1 – a lot of work, not a lot of XP. Copper. Copper. Copper.

    I suppose you could get under 5, but it takes a bit of work: say escort a forgotten and almost indestructible proto-deity who will just become a (rather crude) statue in light of day, nigh indestructible, follows glumly behind, of no importance to anyone. FRP total, a lowly three. No soup for you, unless . . .

    . . . PCs change the dynamic somehow: anger the critter with gastrointestinal insults (new Reck = 3), resurrect his cult, or some new-age fascimile thereof (new Pri = 3), and in so doing cause powerful forces interested in maintaining the status quo to try to explode the thing (Frag = 3) there you go, platinum pieces for everyone for all your hard work (delayed).

    1. Interesting. I think there is something to this for sure. But as you say it would need tweaking a bit to ensure everything doesn't turn out being gold or better.

    2. not to endlessly iterate on a half-baked idea, but

      Scale 0-3

      Copper 1 points
      Silver 3 points
      Electrum 5 points
      Gold 7 points
      Platinum 9 points

      round evens down

      So the abducted villagers again, Frag 2, Reck 0 (this guys are scared enough to meekly go along with the killhoboes who barged in and are trying to lead them back to the surface), Pri 0, adds up to 2 points, copper

      but if the abducted villagers are good and drunk (Reck 2) you are up to silver.

      The niece of the local hedge witch: Frag 2, Reck 1, Pri 2 (local import) = electrum baby!

      no gold in sight anywhere, or only, as outlined above, in the case of inebriated captives who are more headache than treasure hoard

    3. I like it, Theo. I can imagine it would need (shudder) playtesting.

  10. My main play group tends to largely play heroic characters with the occasional murder hobo with a heart of gold. It's generally agreed that GM hooks are aimed at philanthropic motives just out of habit.

  11. In our D&D game, I've switched from XP for gold to spending gold for XP (a common approach, I gather). The assumption - drawing on RuneQuest - is that the gold is spent on training, study, spell ingredients, temple dues or thieves' guild dues.

    But one could also devise a system like your rescue idea where "goodwill for XP" sits alongside "spending gold for XP". The abstracted principle would be the same: grateful communities put their resources at the disposal of the party, so that they can train, study, harvest ingredients, etc.

    The thing that could unite both of these would be a (somewhat abstract) *ransom value*. So rescuing a captive would lead to XP rewards whether those were paid in coin or kind (identical in game terms). And that could be extrapolated to rescuing a whole village or whatever.

    That way, the picaresque party advances as it soaks up and spends ransoms and rewards while the virtuous party advances as it rises in popular esteem - with an assumed 'off-screen' amount of training and research underlying both types of advance.

  12. im still a bit too tied to gold4xp to gove up on it, but i have been struggling over how to define how a level-up happens; rescue4level seems ideal.

    child/villager: lvl 2
    gentry: level 3
    nobility and requisitie hangers-on: 4-9
    kings and such: 10+

  13. As a monster hunter policy, wouldn't it be more effective to destroy the monsters *before* they menace the populace?

    Of course, then you must operate in absolute certainty about what beings' existence is a clear and inherent threat.

    I can easily see a game that switches between the traditional goal and this, for most campaigns do waver between defending humanity (undoing plots and preemptively striking aggressors) and striking off into the wilds to "explore" (loot) some ruin.

    XP=GP for sites far from settlements, XP = monsters/ saving for sites closer by?

  14. Replies
    1. When I read this I was imagining the gnomes were the actual mechanism of the counter-terrorism. Like instead of a bomb exploding, the dude opens a box and a small furry man moves in, cooking him dinner, fixing random half-broken things around the house, singing plainsong, generally soothing the savage antisocial until they are fully rehabilitated

  15. Inspired by the 3.0 or 3.5 XP tables, which were built around the idea of 13 1/3 level-appropriate encounters per level to level.
    I converted that to just 10 Encounters per level, with Easy Encounters counting half and Hard Encounters counting twice.

    That removes a lot of math and detailed record keeping, and lets you incentivize what you want your players to do, or what you want your players to do.
    Defeat the manes? That's an Encounter. Maybe easy, maybe hard depending on level. Rescue the prisoners? That's an Encounter. Rescue some of the prisoners, some of them don't make it? Maybe that's an Easy Encounter.
    Also lends itself to old-school play. Sneak past the manes? That's an encounter.
    Defeat the medusa in combat? Encounter. Communicate with the medusa, convince her to go bother the next valley? Encounter.
    Discover a big secret? Encounter.

    Old school play with different XP tables for different classes, we could do some math and come up with a conversion chart.

  16. (Cont'd) Encounters instead of XP also allows new-school players to bring back multi-level parties.
    The Nazgul would be an Easy encounter (x1/2) for Gandalf, an Average Encounter (x1 for Aragorn and Gimli, a Hard encounter (x2) for the hobbits.

    1. You can also bring multi-level parties into newer-edition play. The trip and the hazards may be no very big deal to the Grizzled Veteran, but getting the greenhorns safely through the Moderately Dangerous Valley is a level-appropriate Encounter (or Encounters).

  17. Is this not just Story Award XPs? If the Duchess is vital to the stability of the region, maybe a 1000 XP bonus for keeping her alive despite the fact she is 0-level? And if you are part of a Demon Hunting organisation, they provide training free of charge as long as you successfully complete missions. (It can sometimes he helpful to think of GP = XP as resources you have to hire skilled trainers, obtain books of forgotten lore, donations to your deity, gain underworld gossip.)

    1. No, because I am thinking of making it more systemic. "Story goals" always seemed too arbitrary and broad in scope to really work as anything other than a method for the DM manipulating or man-managing the players.

  18. With respect, you mean yes but I am trying to create a useful formula. But how do you take into account my duchess example above? Or the location of the village/town/county, which may have added strategic importance. And what value do you put on intelligence gained about the enemy? Or morale boosting?

    1. I wouldn't put any value on intelligence gained about the enemy because that intelligence is really its own reward. I don't think you need XP on top of that - it feels like a double reward. (Yes, I suppose you could say the same thing about XP for gold...)

      I think what I am wary of is putting in additional bonuses because so-and-so is vital to the "story" or even, as you put it, the "stability of the region". If she's vital to the stability of the region it is narratively neutral in my view whether she is "rescued" or not. A destabilised region might end up being interesting, or might not - but the DM shouldn't really second guess the matter with XP rewards.

      I suppose what I mean is that there is always the temptation with this kind of thing to use the XP award to steer the PCs towards predetermined objectives the DM has in mind. If there is just a flat rate for rescuing captives this problem is avoided.

    2. What happens next would be a result of PC actions, not any prewritten referee story. Indeed it would be the perfect opportunity to show the PCs that their actions matter, but that they can choose where, when and if they intervene. The sort of variables I would be considering are: (i) the duchess is the best bet for the region in the face of hostiles; (ii) her son would be better than nothing, and would do better still with information about the opposition; (iii) a descent into chaos and the enemy attack with advantage.
      You might have a look at how story awards are given out in the module WGR6 City of Skulls, one of the very few top class 2e adventures.
      I am enjoying this thread, and various suggestions.

  19. For those of us who started after XP for gold fell by the wayside, this is more or less the default: you mostly save people from monsters, and you get XP for defeating monsters, and you get XP for major accomplishments, which is mostly saving people from monsters.

    I do like the idea of moving it a bit further away from "story goals" and closer to the gamey impartiality of XP for gold, but I think there's some things that emerge that might not be to everyone's taste: for example, that village terrorised by the medusa for 2000 XP at 5 XP for each of 400 people is less efficient than the 500 people village terrorised by a troll, let's do that instead. Is being incentivised to make those sort of calculations what we want in a game that wants to incentivise good guy behaviour?

    1. On the contrary, I kind of like the moral quandaries that kind of calculation will give rise to. It's like triage, no? Or even, you could say, utilitarianism. Do we save 400 people over there, or 500 over here? What is the best use of scarce resources given the constraints we face? I think that could be interesting.

    2. Fair enough, that's why I was careful to say "not to everyone's taste" and "is that what we want", not "not appropriate" and "that's not what we want". It could be interesting, but definitely doesn't feel like good guys to me, more like some kind of Moorcockian capital-G Good, provably good by the accounting of the XP totals, but potentially a bit monstrous in how you treat people.