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I'm the DM of a milestone-leveling game. I want to reward my players with some items like the Deck of Many Things.

However some cards like the Fool, the Jester and the Sun have effects that change the XP of the player. The Fool takes like 1/3 of a level from a level 15 character, the Jester gives 1/3 of a level 15 character and the Sun gives nearly 2 levels.

The Jester explicitly states what happens if no XP is gained so that's already one good alternative, but the other cards become just bland if no XP is changed.

How can I properly adapt those cards to the milestone-leveling model without simply discarding the XP change? And more broadly, how should I adapt any XP-changing object to a milestone-leveling model?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure a Deck of Many Things is a reward. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Jan 18 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ To gamblers ? It's always a reward ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Olivier Grégoire Jan 18 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman I have heard the Deck of Many Things referred to as the "Deck of Ruin the Campaign" on more than one occasion. I'd analyze why you actually want to use the Deck before using it. The optimal result statistically is almost always to draw as few cards as allowed. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael W. Jan 18 at 21:58
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The Setup

I run a game using milestone XP, but rather than coming up with plot points, I planned out how many sessions we'll go between each level. This is because I felt like I was being internally inconsistent with when players leveled up, but I hate tracking XP.

I came to these numbers by looking at the general trends of how much XP it takes to get between various levels by default, and by adjusting based on how long I wanted to spend running this campaign. The XP chart doesn't follow a smooth function, but instead takes some weird dips, which I assumed were on purpose, and tried to incorporate into my chart. This means that I have a leveling chart, just not with tracking XP.

The Table

This is the table I've been using, but obviously, this is just what works for me. It might not fit other people's games, and that's fine. It's mostly here as an example

From level 1, there are 2 sessions to the next level.

From level 2, there are 2 sessions to the next level.

From level 3, there are 3 sessions to the next level.

From level 4, there are 4 sessions to the next level.

From level 5, there are 4 sessions to the next level.

From level 6, there are 6 sessions to the next level.

From level 7, there are 6 sessions to the next level.

From level 8, there are 7 sessions to the next level.

From level 9, there are 7 sessions to the next level.

From level 10, there are 6 sessions to the next level.

From level 11, there are 8 sessions to the next level.

From level 12, there are 6 sessions to the next level.

From level 13, there are 6 sessions to the next level.

From level 14, there are 7 sessions to the next level.

From level 15, there are 7 sessions to the next level.

From level 16, there are 7 sessions to the next level.

From level 17, there are 8 sessions to the next level.

From level 18, there are 8 sessions to the next level.

From level 19, there are 6 sessions to the next level.

The Solution

Using this, I would look at how many levels the XP from the item, be it the Deck of Many Things or something else, would grant in an XP leveling system.

To continue with your example, the Fool takes 1/3 of a level from a level 15 character. In my table, going from level 15 to level 16 takes 7 sessions, so I would make a note that that unlucky person will need 2 extra sessions to reach level 16. Or, if they draw the Jester, they'll level up 2 sessions early.

I keep track of this next to my notes on each session, which are separated and dated for each game; this makes it easy for me to keep track of when people should be leveling up.

The reason I go into all this detail is that I'm not sure, without some sort of standardized alternative to the XP charts, how to implement this, other than sort of winging it, which would feel unsatisfactory to me both as a DM and as a player.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The answer is interesting. Did this delay affect only the next level? That's the vibe I got from it.. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Jan 18 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @3c273 I would sort of try to adapt the effect based on the percentage of a level that is impacted by a given card. The chart I came up with is not a perfect 1-to-1 mathematical corollary to the XP chart, but it's still meant to be equivalent. If something would grant multiple levels by pure XP calculations, it would grant the same number of levels or percentage of a level in this chart. \$\endgroup\$ – Blue Caboose Jan 18 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @3c273 Sorry if I'm being unclear-- numbers are really, REALLY not my strong suit, so while this system makes sense to me, I may be doing a terrible job of explaning it. \$\endgroup\$ – Blue Caboose Jan 18 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I meant simpler than that. I meant, is somekne who gets an Xp penalty at lvl5 forever behind in your game? Or just until the next milestone. I can imagine propagating it theought the whole game being cumbersome. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Jan 18 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 Ah, I understand. Once they hit the next level, I would probably call it all even, specifically for the reasons that you pointed out. It sounds like way too much bookkeeping to me. \$\endgroup\$ – Blue Caboose Jan 18 at 20:48
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I had this situation recently. I was running a game where we had been using milestone levelling rather than XP, and I decided to throw the Deck of Many Things in (just as they reached 14th level).

The three cards you mention, Jester, Fool and Sun, all have effects that relate to XP directly.

What I did is as the other answers suggest; I removed Jester and Fool entirely (which was good for me because there is no discernible difference between the two Joker cards in my pack of cards).

As for Sun, someone actually drew that (I think it might have even been the very first card; it was certainly the first PC, I remember that), so I simply had them level up. Yes, 50000xp is more than they needed to reach level 15, but it wasn't enough to reach level 16, and since with milestone levelling, everyone generally levels up at the same time, I figured that having this character one level higher than the rest of the party as the game continued wouldn't matter, and it would all balance out in the end.

The players were happy with this ruling (and didn't question the missing Jokers) so this worked for my table.

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The Fool is the least impactful - it can never reduce your level, only bring you to "just barely" your level. You can opt to get this card out by giving them the thirteen card deck.

With the Sun and Jester cards, the same potential for imbalance exists even in standard XP games, where the characters will become disproportionate, and if you aren't happy with these effects you have four realistic options IMHO:

  1. Don't use the Deck.

  2. Create entirely different cards, it is recommended but not necessary to tell the players there is a difference

  3. The cards simply aren't in the deck. I know the rules say the Jester and Fool cards reappear in the deck, but it says a used card disappears from existence. Maybe the last person to draw wished those cards out of existence

  4. Cheat. Use a twenty-two card deck, remove those three cards, and act like nothing is different.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would call #4 cheating, per se. The DM customizing content from the DMG for the peculiarities of a specific game is part of the DM's job. Players shouldn't know the difference, because they shouldn't be poking around the DMG anyway. My personal preference would be #1, though... I think the Deck is a silly holdover from previous iterations of the game and doesn't need to exist. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jan 18 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. I don't think cheat is used in a literal sense here. \$\endgroup\$ – Jasper Jan 18 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ "it is recommended but not necessary to tell the players there is a difference" - I'd recommend not telling them. The players find a special set of cards and may try to find out how it works, possibly trying to find out what the cards do before using it. If the players try to do the investigation out of character, it's on them if they make incorrect assumptions. \$\endgroup\$ – Jasper Jan 18 at 18:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, I believe the item says that first, the card you drew disappears, then it reappears in the deck if its not the fool or joker. It's a confusingly written, considering that by changing a full stop into a comma and "the" and "then" you can change the sentence to mean the opposite of what it does now... \$\endgroup\$ – Jasper Jan 18 at 18:34
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I see several approaches. Note that the situation is not that grim, since the player cannot lose their level from the Fool and on lower levels the amount would mean many whole levels, so we only need to consider the higher levels that will result in ugly fractions.

  1. Mentally adjust the progress. This is a bit vague, obviously, and depends strongly on how the milestones are aranged in your campaign. But also is the most honest translation of the concept. It would work best if you kept track of many milestones other then just those that signal a level-up. This way, you would first figure out the assumed impact, as you have in the questions and then mentally translate that into the minor milestones, so that the PC is "ahead". Example: with a 1/3 lvl head start, he would level up after defeating the miniboss, not after the big Boss fight like the rest of the group.

  2. Get rid of those cards. Some Decks may be special. Your has slightly different composition. The players don't have to ever find out if you don't want to. Obviously doesn't work for other similar effects/items, whatever they may be.

  3. Replace the bonus. Consider what the player might gain through the XP and replace that. Is he a caster? Maybe he gets only the spell-slots of the next level and no other benefit. Maybe not even all of them. This may come in form of an item summoned by the card or just as a DM fiat (which is I suppose less elegant). This is harder to imagine for the detrimental effects, but I could be in form of a curse that triggers on the next level-up. Or just forget about emulating the effect of XP and bribe the player with gold, riches and magic items.

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