In Monte Cook's new roleplaying game Numenera, XP is used as a narrative currency not only by the GM but by the players as well. Taken from his design diaries:

Say the PCs find a hidden console with some buttons. They learn the right order to press the buttons, and a section of the floor disappears (this happened in the second playtest session I wrote about). As GM, I don’t have the players specifically tell me where they’re standing. Instead, I give one player an XP and say, “unfortunately, you are standing directly over this new hole in the floor.” Now, if he wanted, the player could refuse the XP and spend one of his own, and then he would say, “I leap aside to safety.” Or, he could just make the defensive roll that the GM calls for and let it play out.

At first this just seemed like D&D and Pathfinder's Hero Points variant rule, but Hero Points come across as more of a "get out of jail free" card for players, and not the narrative currency that XP points will be in Numenera. Furthermore, XP points will still be used to "increase character abilities... or advance in levels."

The idea of XP as a currency to drive two-way narrative dialogue intrigues me, and as I've only played various d20 systems, have not seen this before. Is this concept new to Numenera, or has it appeared before in other systems? If so, in what ways has the concept evolved over the history of roleplaying games?

  • \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like several other mechanics I've seen, but I can't recall XP being used as the currency (Action points, dice out of a dice pool, or other things I've seen). Not that it's necessarily novel, just that I can't remember a system that users XP for narrative currency like that. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Aug 21, 2012 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are games that effectively let players spend XP: D6 and (to a lesser extent) 7th Sea both allow spending for certain bonuses. There are also games that have narrative currency (7th Sea has a very limited form of this, and I believe FATE is the stereotypical variant of this). I'm not sure what systems combine the two, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Aug 21, 2012 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Monte just blogged some more about his XP system montecookgames.com/more-on-experience-points \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Aug 22, 2012 at 18:34

6 Answers 6


No, this isn't novel (although that does not mean that it isn't clever design in Numenera).

There are two separate things married in that mechanic as you've described it. Both have been done before, and I can think of at least one game that has married them in the same way before.

First there is the concept of a pull mechanic. Most GM-initiated events are examples of using push mechanics—the GM imposes something and the player has to deal with it. In a pull mechanic, something is offered at a price, and the player is faced with a tempting choice. Pull mechanics are not inherently better, but they do have some nice side-effects that a designer can take advantage of in ways that are different than push mechanics. Compels in Fate games work like this.

The second thing being joined here is a game currency that is the source of advancement. This is familiar to all of us as XP and isn't anything new. D&D does this, of course.

When you join a pull mechanic with advancement currency as the bait, you get a very neat mechanic that puts advancement and choice more into the players' hands. In my experience, that significantly increases players' sense of agency and control over their characters' destiny. (It's not fool-proof of course—the GM can offer bad deals—but you can break any mechanic if you try.)

The most well-known game that I can think of that does this is Apocalypse World (and its fantasy child, Dungeon World). The same bargains happen: here is a choice, and the choice is to accept trouble and then deal with it and get to mark experience, or refuse the experience and don't suffer the trouble. AW even calls it "experience". It's not as free-form as it sounds like in Numenera, but that's just a side-effect of the GM being bound by rules about when they can inflict "interesting" events on the PCs.

If you read designer blogs, after a while it becomes obvious that there are very few truly novel mechanics out there—they're all learning from and inspiring each other. What is novel is the way these small bits are combined into systems that create new rules-player interactions that we haven't seen before. Though they're pretty much identical, the XP pull mechanic in Numenera is almost certainly going to have different effects on the rest of the game system and the people playing it than the XP pull mechanic of AW does.


Several good suggestions have been made, but they're all from later than West End Games' classic Torg, which is the earliest game I can think of to make fate points and XP the same thing. Torg's "possibilities" represented the ability to manipulate fate both in- and out-of-character.

Possibilities were earned where other games have xp. They could be spent to alter die rolls, could be used to avoid Bad Things, could be spent as xp, and (when combined with the game's card system) could generate plotlines, which then led to further possibility awards.

They were also usable in-character to warp physics and enforce the character's personal reality on the environment. (The use of possibilities as xp to learn skills was also partly in-character; the character was unconsciously altering probability to learn new skills quickly. Non-possiblity-rated NPCs learned skills much more slowly.)


Well, to me it looks like a mix between Hero Points as found in Hero Quest and Fate points from FATE games.

HeroQuest's Hero Points : Though they're only awarded at the end of an adventure, they too can be used as much to advance the character as to bump up one's results in a skill contest.

Fate Points, on the other hand, are a "story currency" that goes back and forth between GM and players for a brief moment of control over the Story, pretty much the way described in your excerpt. Never heard of them used as XP, though.

A somewhat similar mechanic has been used in earlier editions of Savage Worlds.

Savage Worlds has Bennies which are another kind of story currency. You get them as a reward for being awesome in-game, and they can be used to get a reroll or to shrug off damage. Up until Explorer's Edition, any unused Benny remaining at the end of a session was a chance at extra XP (per Benny, roll a d6. A 5-6 is an additional XP).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Seems like the Bennies are a solid comp. Narrative currency that can become XP. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Aug 21, 2012 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ They took out the option for converting bennies to XP in SWEX, I believe. The rationale is that the system depends on bennies flowing freely, and encouraging hoarding them for bonus XP was counterproductive to the rest of the system. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 21, 2012 at 22:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right. I remembered Bennies as XP while first writing my answer and found info corroborating my memories when I first looked it up on the web. Then I found info saying it had been removed, opened my SWD pdf once at home and the rule was nowhere to be found. I still haven't had time to think up an appropriate edit, but will do so soon. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nigralbus
    Aug 22, 2012 at 7:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Cortex system did a similar shift between the first set of rules of Serenity (you spent Bennies for advancement) and the revised rules (Bennies were in a separate pool from advancement points). I imagine it was a similar rationale (to discourage hoarding them). \$\endgroup\$ Sep 12, 2013 at 17:12

This is not an easy question to answer in terms of scope, but I'll give it a try.

Spycraft and Exalted both offer players devil deals regarding XP. Either take this in game benefit, or you can take extra XP. In Spycraft this was based on Action Point/Hero Point style narrative currency tokens that you could spend in game for various effects or keep for extra XP at the end of a session. In Exalted, if you perform a three-point-stunt (one of those everyone at the game table says wow moments), one option for reward is extra XP.

A common house rule in White Wolf games, especially LARPs, (and a rule that I'm sure White Wolf has listed in some game as an official) is that there's an extra XP to awarded at the end of game by player vote. I'm sure 800 other games have some form of XP voting, and I've used it or seen it used in plenty of games that don't, even DnD.

Related to all of this, the mechanics of indie games are often based on slightly blurring the relationship between GM and player, in an effort to try to lay the groundwork toward an ideal of cooperative storytelling, and this often involves rewards, though not always explicitly experience. Burning Wheel and Houses of the Blooded are good examples of this sort of thing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, but could you expand on the first two examples you gave? XP voting, while it may drive narrative, isn't really narrative currency per say, which is really what I'm looking for. \$\endgroup\$
    – dlras2
    Aug 21, 2012 at 15:37

The earliest example I've encountered of XP doing double duty as drama points is first edition Shadowrun (released in 1989, which beats Torg by a year, according to Wikipedia). Players are awarded Karma at the end of each session, which can then be used as either Good Karma (spending it on permanent improvements to the character, such as skill increases) or as Instant Karma (a one-shot use of the Karma points to reroll, buy extra dice or automatic successes, etc.).

Later editions of Shadowrun eliminated this double duty, splitting Karma into Good Karma and a Karma Pool at the time it's awarded. The Karma Pool is used in much the same way as Instant Karma was in first edition, but it can't be used for permanent advancement and refreshes each session instead of being gone permanently when used.


Another early example of this: TSR Marvel Super Heroes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marvel_Super_Heroes_(role-playing_game)) from 1984. From the player's guide:

As a hero adventures in the Marvel Universe, he gains and loses Karma. Karma is the reward system of the game, and is a register of how well the character is doing compared to an "ideal" hero.

Karma is also a spendable experience point. In other words, it is gained by the player, and may be spent by the player to make sure certain actions happen when they are supposed to (example: Captain America, with only one chance, bounces his shield off three walls and hits the lever necessary to prevent the detonation of the Z-bomb). Karma is also spent to complete technological items, accomplish Power Stunts, and to advance the character in abilities and power.

However, this is a post-facto reward system, not a "pull". In your example, the GM gives the choice to the player. How we played Marvel Universe, it was a reward for good role playing and achieving tasks in general. It also had the interesting dynamic of allowing players to pool their Karma.


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