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Experience Points (or Karma, or Legend-points, etc.) are given as an award to the players that can be used to improve the capabilities of their characters and to monitor general "progress". In all games I know of, the characters don't know in-play about XP. That might result in a discrepancy between the motivations of the player and the character — the player might want to go on the adventure to gain more XP, the character might have no such motivation.

Are there games where the characters know that they will gain something intangible by doing this adventure? Maybe "the goodwill of the gods", or something like that. Which games have such concepts?

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

I think most games have some in game concept of "experiences" or "renown." While these may not be in game mechanical concepts they do exist, although it would be DM dependent. – wax eagle Nov 19 '11 at 13:49
Shadowrun doesn't get anywhere near close enough to justify a recommendation, but it does flirt with the idea in an interesting way. Exchanging cash for karma is described as doing things like donating money to charity, which exchanging karma for cash might be winning a small lottery pot or finding a wallet or something. But that's really the only example. – Drew Aug 11 '14 at 15:45

11 Answers 11

up vote 10 down vote accepted

FreeMarket blends the language, actions, and motivations of the player with that of the character. For example, "I need to gift my Ultrasonic Screwdriver to Withnail because I need the flow" functions just as well in-character as out-of-character.

One form of advancement in FreeMarket is through improving the character's Experiences (analogous to skills in other games).

  1. During the session, write down a short-term memory about an event that happened. "I tried to print a bowling ball, but the matter printer spewed out grey goo."
  2. At the end of session, upgrade short-term memories into long-term memories (or forget them).
  3. At the start of the next session, upgrade a single long-term memory into a relevant Experience. "I'm upgrading my botched printing memory into improving Printing."

Memories aren't just a note on the character sheet. They exist, mechanically, in game as something that can be given, implanted, stolen, converted into or out of data.

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Very nice. I didn't know this game yet, but it seems to be in the style of Cory Doctorow's Magic Kingdom-novel. Only Whuffie is now Flow. – Mnementh Nov 19 '11 at 17:09
It's very interesting (i playtested during the open playtest) and it's very odd. Play with your storygamer friends, not your D&D crew. – aramis Nov 21 '11 at 1:08

Pendragon uses Glory in a way that is similar to experience points. Passing a 1000 Glory threshold is much like a level-up (but carries less impact on character power.) Glory is very much an in-game construct as well, as it translates roughly to honorable renown and lets a knight be known far and wide.

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It's worth noting that the knights would realize that they were increasing in glory, but would have no clue as to the numbers involved in the game. – aramis Nov 21 '11 at 1:06
Correct, Master aramis. – Eric Wilde Nov 23 '11 at 5:19

I'm pretty sure that Torg's Possibilities are at least, to some extent, in-game constructs.

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+1 - very good example! I'd forgotten about Torg! – SnakeDr68 Nov 22 '11 at 20:44
Oh, Torg seems to be an excellent example of what I have in mind. At least after reading the Wikipedia-entry about it: You should provide a link to the system. – Mnementh Nov 23 '11 at 0:30

Earthdawn had the concept of legend. Your magical talents were improved by building your legend. It was as important (in theory) to tell your stories at the inn before/during/after the adventure as it was to have the adventure itself. When players would spend their legend points to improve a talent I would usually require that they are able to explain how that talent has contributed to their legend. And legendary feats were rewarded with extra legend points. As far as roleplaying Earthdawn was and still is my favourite system because of this.

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Earthdawn is my favorite as well. I love that numbers on your character sheet make sense directly in game. You can say "hey, I'm a 5th circle Weaponsmith" and people will understand and have a decent idea of your abilities. Aside from your character levels (circles), the amount of Legend you obtained made you more well known (for better or worse) in the world. Given enough Legend, pretty much all of the known world would be able to recognize you. I've only gamed with Earthdawn 2nd Edition but I assume they kept that in with later editions. – Curtis Apr 10 '12 at 13:00

We are playing AD&D 2.0, and our characters know that experience will of course improve their abilities/skills/knowledge/... - as it is in "real life". Training improves abilities, usage (reading/talking) of a foreign language improves your language skill, and so on. The characters do not know about experience points (XP).

The characters in Order of the Stick do know about their XP (and a lot of meta-gaming), e.g. OotS 0124, therefore the characters in OotS - the Game know about XP, but I am not sure whether it is implemented in its game mechanics.

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+1 for OOTS! That was the first thing I though of when I saw this question. :D – Mason Wheeler Nov 19 '11 at 16:49
-1 for doesn't answer the question. He's looking for system recommendations that have this mechanic built in, and AD&D doesn't. – SnakeDr68 Nov 20 '11 at 1:09
@wraith808: Reworded my answer. I thought that 1. excluding a system, 2. naming a possible system, and 3. giving a general consideration would be helpful. Sorry if I could not help by this approach. – Stephen Nov 20 '11 at 12:15
@Stephen: I saw that. But I already have all the books... :P – Mason Wheeler Jan 31 '12 at 18:30

Maid RPG uses Favor Points as XP, which are granted by the Master, an NPC who gives the Maids their missions, and whom the maids must protect. Favor represents how satisfied the Master is with each maid's duties. It's sort of like your "goodwill of the gods", except instead of god it's a spoiled rich kid who owns a mansion.

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We use a homebrew gaming system, based on the WoD d10 system, with dots for Attributes and Abilities.

I've developed a tick system, where, each time a 10 is made on an Attribute + Ability roll, one tick goes into the Tick Pool (to be spent on Willpower, Virtues, Merits, etc) and if more than one 10 is rolled, you can place a tick into either the Attribute or Ability.

You need a certain number of ticks to increase your dots in a given Attribute or Ability, so you can only increase these stats with use.

This way, if the player wants to increase their character's Blade skill, then the character wants to increase their Blade skill - and can only do it by using their blade. It's taken away the feeling of grinding for XP from my game and everyone seems to like it.

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+1 for a low paperwork way to make skill upgrades paired to use of the skill. I've never thought of something that simple- I've been overthinking that for problem everytime I took a shot at it. – IgneusJotunn Jul 23 '12 at 19:15

In the Mythic Iceland setting for Basic Roleplaying the characters do know that following a path of behavior favored by the gods they worship will bring them special favors, and it's entirely possible that the characters in-game could know what kind of favors those are likely to be, in case of them knowing some other character who has achieved that higher level of alliance with that specific god.

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The discrepancy may not be that large, just the way they would phrase it. The character would not have a concept of "experience points", but they would have a concept of "experience" and skill improvements.

Serious students of a language will often make a point of going somewhere that the language is spoken natively for the experience of immersion. Serious martial artists seek out sparring opportuninitites for the experience it brings. Internships are largely about gaining experience (along with the related resume bullets and contacts, of course). To go fictional, in "Batman Begins", Wayne became a criminal for a while to get the experience he needed to understand them so he could better fight them.

In short, the exact words they use might be different, but the concepts and motivations would likely align for character and player. Someone who wanted to be the best swordsman possible may not say he wanted to fight a duel to get the experience points and level up, but he may very well say he wants to fight that duel to test himself and hone his skills.

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There's probably a lot of games that do something like this- the example that leaps to my mind is Dresden Files style FATE. The main currency used to buy supernatural powers is called Refresh. Unspent refresh is converted into FATE points during play, which allows your character to resist compels- basically, to act against their core nature or to do surprising things. There is a definite sense that the more power you have, the less free will you have, and that relationship is understood and even commented on by characters within the universe.

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Actually, yes, there are:

  • In Vampire : the Masquerade, growing in power (though this is not the primary goal of many) means getting your blood stronger, closer to that of Cain, the first Vampire. You can do so by drinking the blood of other (stronger) vampires. You can expand this concept to pretty much any fantastic game (eating the brain of a mage will give you more power, yummy!)
  • I once read a scenario for a game I don't remember (and I'm interested if anyone knows) that uses a system of reputation against several existing factions. heroes won't go on adventure to get XP but reputation points. OK, it's still points, but it means something to the characters. It's close to the glory concept in Pendragon, but you have several glories that also kind of define your alignment
  • In futuristic games, money can pretty much do the trick, as long as characters can spend it to improve themselves (say: adding mechanical parts to their body)
  • In a home-brew game I use, where magic is omnipresent, pretty much everything is related to your sensivity to the magic fields. Though we still use XP, better control of some type of magic is a very concrete reward (as far as magic fields can be) and seems very natural
  • I have no reference for those, but you could experiment with age, IQ, nobility (measured in acres of land and/or titles) or bounty on your head
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