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Does a template that grants HD (lycanthropy, but also multi-headed, zombie, etc.) necessarily give XP to be at that new character level? Is there some requirement somewhere that one has to have enough XP for their HD?

If Alice, a second level human fighter with 1001 XP, contracts werewolfery, she gains 2 animal RHD. She's a Fighter 2/Animal 2. Does she have 1001 XP, or did she jump up to 6000 XP (normal for a character with 4 HD)? As an afflicted werewolf, she has +2 LA, too—does that affect things? Normally gaining LA doesn't affect one's XP.

Also salient is page 58 of the PHB, which reads:

A character can advance only one level at a time. If, for some extraordinary reason, a character's XP reward from a single adventure would be enough to advance two or more levels at once, he or she instead advances one level and gains just enough xp to be 1 xp short of the next level. Any excess experience points are not retained.

  1. As a 6th level character (Fighter 2/Animal 2/+2 LA), Alice would normally need 21,000 XP to level up. Also normally, she'd need XP equal to 1000 × her ECL, or 6,000. Before she was bitten, she had 1,001 XP. How much XP does she have, and how much does she need to reach Fighter 3?
  2. Werewolf Alice gets in a fight with a vampire, as is natural for a werewolf. She gets a negative level in the process. What happens to her XP when she fails her save and loses a level? Normally, that should set her XP to the halfway point of her new level, Fighter 2/Animal 1/+2 LA, so between ECL 4 and 5, or 12,500 XP.
  3. Say Alice starts adventuring and reaches 21,000 XP (however much that took). What happens when Alice receives a remove curse spell during the full moon? She loses her lycanthropy, and with it her animal RHD. What does that do to her XP total?
  4. If her XP total is unchanged after being cured, does Alice immediately level up? How many times?
  5. Can a werewolf cleric just level people up by giving them lycanthropy then curing it? If that doesn't work, what about mixing in level loss to set XP to the halfway point between two (higher than pre-lycanthropy) levels?
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  • \$\begingroup\$ are you sure the 2 HD are not part of the +2 LA? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jan 17 at 10:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes; they're separate values. +2 LA for afflicted lycanthropes, +3 for natural, and extra RHD depending on base animal. A weretiger has 6 animal HD, for instance, but still only +2 or +3 LA. They just happen to be the same for an afflicted werewolf. LA should also never correspond to HD, by definition, but the lycanthrope template break all sorts of rules. Luckily they don't break this one, which we can confirm with things like the werewolf savage progression (Dragon 313) being 5 levels long: 2 HD + 3 LA (for natural werewolves—afflicted don't take the last level since they have only +2 LA). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 17 at 12:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: What's the nicest way to handle lycanthropy when it comes to XP? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 17 at 18:11

3 Answers 3

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Savage Species on Effects of Transformation, in part, says, "Once a character transforms, she has a new effective character level. This ECL determines how many experience points she needs to gain her next class level…" (145). Then it offers an example:

[A] human rogue just gained 5th level and has 10,000 experience points. On her next adventure, a wererat bites her… and, after her first change, [she] becomes a wererat. Now her ECL is 8. Instead of needing 5,000 experience points to go from 5th level to 6th, she needs 26,000 experience points (the difference between 5th and 9th level).… When she has 36,000 experience points, the rogue can add her 6th level as a rogue (or any other class level she chooses), and she will be an ECL 9 character. She needs 9,000 XP to reach her next level (the difference between 9th and 10th level). (ibid.)

Realize that Savage Species was conceived as a standalone project then more or less shoehorned into the mainstream Dungeons & Dragons product line (more here), so its rules must be examined with some caution, but absent anything else in this regard, the above seems, to a point,—and let's be generous—awkwardly playable.

So with this in mind, it appears that, by extension, there's no change to a creature's XP upon a creature somehow acquiring Level Adjustment or Hit Dice during play, no matter how that occurs. For ease of reference, the difference between a creature's current XP and the creature's XP total needed to reach its next ECL is hereafter called the creature's XP debt.

Questions & Answers

I have rephrased these for technical accuracy. I hope that I've maintained the spirit of the original questions.

  • When a creature during play adds 1 or more Hit Dice (HD) and/or sees its Level Adjustment (LA) increase by +1 or more (like from acquiring a template), does the creature receive experience points (XP) as if it had earned sufficient XP to gain character levels to match the creature's new Effective Character Level (ECL)?

    No. The creature's XP total is unchanged. The creature simply must earn more XP to reach its next level. For example, Alice the human Ftr2 possesses 2,999 XP and is bitten by a werewolf. She gains 2 animal HD and +2 Level Adjustment (LA)—so that her Effective Character Level (ECL) is 6—, but she still possesses only 2,999 XP. She must earn a total of 21,000 XP (i.e. enough for character level 7) to gain her next experience level and become, for example, a werewolf human Ftr3.

  • Is the game constantly checking if a creature possesses sufficient XP for its HD or LA?

    It appears not. If a creature is somehow capable of gaining HD asymmetrically nigh-infinitely—maybe involving the 4th-level Drd spell awaken [trans] (PH 202) with shenanigans—, the creature's ECL increases, yet its XP total is unchanged.

  • What if a creature suffers level loss before it's paid its XP debt?

    Pretty much the same thing that happens to everyone: "the creature’s level is…reduced by one" (Monster Manual 308) and the creature's "experience point total is immediately set to the midpoint of the previous level" (Dungeon Master's Guide 296). While it seems reasonable to lose the most recently gained "level" first, that may end up being a lycanthrope's animal HD, and that may not sit well with the GM. No matter what, though, the character's XP total will be reduced by ECL 1 (e.g. human were-wolf Ftr 2 Alice loses 2 levels to a vampire, the first lost level dropping her from 2,999 XP to halfway between 1 and 2, or 500 XP, and the second lost level dropping her to halfway between a handful of thrown d4s and a flipped table. I mean, the game doesn't say, okay?)

  • What if a creature loses HD or LA after it's paid its XP debt?

    The game doesn't address this. That is, Alice earns that 21,000 XP, becomes a Ftr3, then is cured of lycanthropy. The DM and Alice should determine a reasonable compromise. The DM may just let Alice catch up to her XP total by letting her take right now a couple more levels of rogue or whatever, and that should be playable enough for the (presumably?) extremely rare occasions that this would occur. Gaming this is possible but weird. For example, a level 1 human wizard that's affected by an enlarge person spell contracts lycanthropy after having been bit by a were-tyrannosaurus hill giant. The Wiz1 spends the next equivalent 20 levels adventuring until he's a level 2 wizard, gets cured of lycanthropy, and is suddenly an epic wizard. Really, though, that's a plot not a PC path.

  • Can a creature gain XP by gaining then losing HD or LA?

    Not unless the template itself has such an effect, and I don't know of any that do. Since a creature's XP total remains unchanged by the application of the HD or LA, if the HD or LA is later lost, there's typically either no effect (if no XP was gained between the application and the loss) or see the previous question, above.

Keep in mind that tinkering with XP totals and level loss is controversial and isn't well-documented by the game (q.v. this question and this question). At some point, the DM is going to have to be involved. After all, you typically can't award yourself XP.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A mention of sourcing issues, and a mention of Savage Species’s origins as a separate product that just kinda got shoved into D&D, would improve this answer, but at least they’re directly addressing this situation. I think their answer is a bad answer, but at least it’s an answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 18 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I proposed the project in 2000, after a closing seminar at Gen Con in which a number of players suggested a supplement book about playing monsters as characters. The project was approved in early 2001, and we got started writing in the fall of 2001. The book began as a guide to playing monsters as PCs but morphed into a generally more useful book to assist DMs in creating interesting monster NPCs as well. " --Jennifer Clarke Wilkes. It looks to me that the idea and project were still based on D&D... just from the perspective of monsters \$\endgroup\$
    – Chemus
    Jan 18 at 21:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, wow. I found this answer linked from somewhere else, and forgot I had written an answer here too already. My fault; I’ll let that stand, delete comments, and stop poking this. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Jun 10 at 5:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fectin Got it. Good talk. :-) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 10 at 6:04
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The rules are very vague around this. I’m starting with the one solid thing we have, though it doesn’t directly address lycanthropy or seem to anticipate this situation:

Level Loss

[…]

The victim’s experience point total is immediately set to the midpoint of the previous level. For example, a character drained from 2nd to 1st level would drop to 500 experience points.

(Dungeon Master’s Guide, pg. 296)

So if levels are lost and one is reverted to 2nd level, e.g. by a human werewolf fighter 2nd curing their lycanthropy, this says their XP is immediately set to the midpoint of the “previous” level. That’s 2,000 XP for 2nd level. Since the former werewolf was previously at 1,001 XP, this seems... decidedly odd. Unfortunately, as I said, this doesn’t anticipate lycanthropy, and the lycanthrope template in Monster Manual doesn’t cover this at all. I guess we can say they earned 999 XP for the experience of curing lycanthropy, but that causes the problem that the XP “value” of curing lycanthropy depends on the level you did it at, which is very weird.

Still, it suggests that contracting lycanthropy does set your XP to that required for your new HD. Then, at least, curing causes your XP to go down (even if it winds up higher than it was before contracting it).

However, I have scoured the core books’ rules for templates, level adjustment, energy drain, negative levels, and level loss, and I have found absolutely nothing else explicitly stated that would be relevant to this question. The above is all we have to go on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The lack of rules support is bad, especially since they went out of their way to make werewolves et al playable. Racial Hit dice and Level Adjustment are awful ways to deal with the power differentials, and then it's compounded by the level-loss-not-level loss is not being addressed at all. As if having and curing lycanthropy are things that don't need complete rules, only getting and using the abilities. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chemus
    Jan 18 at 21:11
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The rules, to the extent they exist, are zany

As written, neither gaining nor losing a template affects your XP total. It does affect the thresholds you need to gain levels. Because there are several effects which directly set your XP based on those thresholds, you can manipulate your XP value fairly directly if you can easily gain and lose templates with LA.

The short version goes more easily with a were-rat, which has no racial hit dice:

  1. Alice gets bitten at 1001 xp, and is now ECL 4. She needs 10,000 XP to level up to ECL 5.
  2. She gets level-drained (or stabbed/raised, etc) and is now ECL 3. As such, her XP is set to 4500 (halfway between 3 and 4).
  3. Then she is cured of lycanthropy, her XP is still 4500.

If she were a lycanthrope with racial hit dice, her XP total would be higher (8000XP with 1Hit Die,etc), and you would then apply:

  1. However, due to the basic rules on XP, she can't ever have that much (can't have enough to level up twice). Instead, she levels up once (back to 2) and her XP is set to one short of the next level: 5999XP.

Which is a pretty sweet deal, but is also obviously broken. Adding racial hit dice adds more questions about the details of how it works in the middle, but doesn't change any of the outcomes.

Here is the patch I've used without issues:

Is this change to how XP works in D&D 3.5 unbalanced?

Basically, re-set the XP total every time you gain or lose a template:

  1. Find the XP to reach the character's current, starting level. Subtract that from their total.
  2. Find the XP to reach the character's new ECL. Add that to the total.
  3. Do not apply any other rules about replacing ECL (i.e. do not replace them per the PHBII).

This eliminates the "XP debt" problem. The character keeps whatever XP they have earned in the current level.

In your example, using this method, Alice would get bitten, wolf out, and immediately gain ( -1000, +15000 = 14000XP) and end up with a total of 15,001XP. Instead of needing 999XP (for a non-wolfey fighter) or 9999XP (RAW), under this method she would need to gain 5999 to add another level of fighter.

Continuing that example, say she adventures for a while and gains 1499 XP before being cured, putting her at 16,500. To remove the template, you back out the HD, remove the LA, and adjust her XP by ( -15000, +1000 = -14,000XP). That puts her at 2500. If it put her over 3000, she would level up as part of the process.

Let me be clear: this is a houserule which I have applied in my games. It has worked in practice: getting lycanthropy was a lot less punitive, and all the shenanigans around XP games disappeared. You can administer it fairly easily as a GM (especially because it should only come up rarely!). However, this is a band-aid. I recommend reading @KRyan's answer to the linked question for his point on why the LA system is just fundamentally broken

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