Experience and Other Rewards
The primary way that adventurers are rewarded is with experience points (gaining new class levels the more they accrue) and treasure like gold or magic items. These aren’t the only ways that they can advance in level however, nor the only way the Narrator can reward the party.
As adventurers face deadly monsters, solve puzzles, explore new locations, overcome challenges, and navigate complex social situations they earn experience points that represent the knowledge and learning they’ve gained. All characters involved in an encounter divide the experience earned evenly and apply it to their experience point total. If the party was assisted by NPCs, count any NPCs as party members when dividing.
After winning a combat encounter, the party gains the total experience of all monsters and encounter elements in the encounter (treating encounter elements as monsters of a CR equal to their difficulty increase) divided up by the number of adventurers and NPCs in the party.
When an adventurer accumulates an amount of experience points determined by their character level, they advance a level in their current class or may select a level in a new class if multiclassing.
Unlike mundane activities, encounters have stakes. In combat the stakes are clear, but other encounter types can be as impactful or dangerous. Defeating a monster might save a family. Brokering peace between two warring barons could save thousands. It might be impossible for the party to carve their way into a dragon’s vault, but they may be able to gain entry through a super poetry reading, sublime musical contest, or sneak in undetected.
The below list includes a range of encounters that most adventurers will face. Allow PCs to solve encounters in creative ways. If the party tries to turn a combat encounter into a social encounter by convincing a bandit leader that they want to join, let them!
Combat Encounters. Combat encounters typically involve violence. The goal may be to vanquish all enemies, capture a target, or hold a strategic point until reinforcements arrive.
Skill Encounters. Skill encounters include contests, research, puzzles, and other tasks dependent upon an adventurer’s aptitude with a particular task. Perhaps the party needs to win an audition to gain an audience with a queen, research the location of an ancient temple, or successfully use an ancient device before the new moon in order to stop a ritual.
Social Encounters. Social encounters often involve swaying the opinions or conclusions of one or more NPCs and include trials, negotiations, or debates.
Stealth Encounters. Sometimes no amount of force can overcome the odds. Stealth encounters might involve sneaking into a palace or breaking into a vault.
Exploration Encounters. Exploration encounters cover a range of potentially dangerous wilderness encounters. The adventurers might need to traverse a dangerous mountain range in the winter, braving blizzards and starvation, or track a criminal through a haunted bog. Perhaps the party needs to climb a crumbling shaft littered with traps in order to activate an ancient elevator. These are often exploration challenges but can be more specific scenarios crafted by the Narrator or introduced in an adventure.
Hybrid Encounters. Hybrid encounters involve elements from two or more of the above categories. Perhaps the party is forced to fight in a gladiatorial pit, fighting waves of enemies until they’re able to win the favor of a spectating warlord, or must distract patrols while sneaking into an enemy encampment to replace a real document with their own forgery.
Encourage Players With Experience
When Narrators award experience points, they assign value to particular tasks. If a Narrator only awards experience for combat, most players will adapt appropriately. Over time this creates narrative fatigue. Provide a range of encounter types with a variety of solutions, and when the party finds clever solutions that subvert or avoid them, give them a bonus for their ingenuity!
Level Up is all about roleplaying and Narrators are encouraged to consider awarding additional experience points at the end of every game session based upon how much the player behind an adventurer engaged with the game. While not everyone needs an accent or ten page backstory, if players mostly stay in character and avoid digressions award them with experience points equal to an easy or average encounter. Good roleplay that engages or entertains everyone and showcases character motivation or growth might be worth as much as a hard encounter. Spectacular roleplay that defines an adventurer or a campaign might be worth even more!
Real life often intrudes on adventuring and deprives a party of a companion. The options below can help manage this inevitability.
First, some narrators decide that an adventurer is unavailable for any session that their player cannot attend. If possible, establish an in-game reason as to why the PC was not present. Some Narrators do not award XP to adventurers that do not participate in encounters. Over time, this can produce a level disparity. While a small level disparity is not mechanically disruptive, it can frustrate players that are unable to attend because of circumstances beyond their control. In some cases, this can lead to further absences or a player quitting altogether.
Alternatively, ask the player to explain why their adventurer was unavailable and award them the same experience points for whatever story they create. Perhaps a mischievous fey that the party encountered previously snatched the PC for a series of ‘games’, or after a night of drinking they woke up with a splitting headache on a boat out to sea. Reward creativity, work collaboratively, and use it as an opportunity to revisit past plots or foreshadow new ones.
Second, a player can request that someone else run their adventurer during combat encounters. Adventurers controlled by another player gain full experience points for a session. While this might disrupt social encounters or other planned interactions, it keeps a party at full strength when facing dangerous odds. Many Narrators decide that an absent player's adventurer automatically stabilizes if they are dropped to 0 unless the whole party is slain to avoid that player returning to find out their PC is dead.
Regardless of the approach a Narrator takes, the issue of what to do when a player has to miss a game session should be discussed during session zero.
Instead of awarding experience points after each encounter, the Narrator can also award experience for completing objectives. Objectives are divided into major objectives or minor objectives. When planning an adventure, identify two or three major objectives and four to six minor objectives. For purposes of experience points, treat major objectives as hard encounters and minor objectives as easy encounters
As an option, the Narrator might ask the party to choose a major objective or a couple of minor objectives unrelated to the adventure at the beginning of each game session. This gives them some narrative control, rewards them for engaging with the story, and further ties them to the setting.
Major objectives represent the major story beats, pivotal encounters, or significant side quests.
- Discover the location of Tancred’s Crypt in the fey-haunted Westerwyld Forest
- Acquire the Tome of Illumination from the Illuminant Order
- Defeat Ogrusk One-Tusk, bandit king of Weepingmere
Minor objectives should represent smaller plot points, optional moments, or ancillary goals. When using a prepublished adventure, try to map them to goals rather than specific encounters. This creates flexibility in how the party accomplishes the objectives rather than dictating a specific set of encounters.
- Help a halfling farmer at the edge of the Westerwyld Forest pull his prize pig out of a bog
- Identify a way into the Illuminant Order’s Archive
- Investigate rumors of a caravan guard that survived an attack by Ogrusk One-Tusk’s bandits
Leveling Without Experience
Some Narrators eschew standard experience points all together, either because they find tracking it to be tedious or because it better suits a campaign’s narrative structure.
By Session. With session based leveling, consider having the adventurers level after each 4 hour session in tier 1, after two sessions in tier 2, after 3 sessions in tier 3, and after 4 sessions in tier 4. This system is easy to track but does not always mesh well with story beats.
Over Time. The Narrator may decide that the adventurers level after time passes in-game. In tier 1, PCs might level at the end of each month. In tier 2, they might level at the end of each season. In tier 3, the party might level at the end of each year. In tier 4, the adventurers might level after 2 or five years. Be sure to tie the timeframe to the narrative beats of the campaign.
Simplified Experience. Encounter points can also be used as an alternative to standard experience points. Whenever a party fights a battle, each adventurer gains XP equal to the encounter point cost of a battle (for example no matter their level, an easy battle is worth half a point of XP, a medium battle is worth 1 XP, a hard battle is worth 2 XP, and so on.) For every 15 XP that an adventurer accumulates they gain a level.
Story-Based. With story-based leveling, the adventurers level after significant accomplishments during the campaign.
Individuals become adventurers for many reasons, but most are interested in some sort of reward. The below list offers examples of rewards beyond experience points and treasure.
Prestige. While saving a village might not be the most lucrative of ventures, word of the party’s deeds might increase their Prestige ratings.
Property, Assets, and Businesses. Homes, castles, strongholds, ships, and businesses are all fine rewards that can expand adventurers’ scope of operations or add a new facet to the game.
Relationships. Over the course of their adventure the PCs form relationships with individuals and communities. Consider granting them the use of favors.
Room and Board. Adventurers touch the lives of common folk and business owners. While these grateful people might lack wealth, they can ensure that heroes never go hungry or without a roof over their heads. This could grant the party a moderate lifestyle at no cost within a particular town or region.
Secret Knowledge. Some individuals may offer knowledge as a reward. This could take the form of a key knowledge, the location of something of interest, or an important secret.
Services. Religious or magical organizations might offer adventurers free or reduced cost spellcasting, and trading companies might allow PCs to travel more safely or at no cost.
Status or Titles. Rulers may bestow status or titles on deserving adventurers. While this can result in privileges, respect, and holdings, many rulers use this as a way to establish a hold over useful individuals.
Status can come from other sources. A tribe of wood elves might grant honorary membership to adventurers that aid them, allowing the party to access ruins in their forest, while a thieves guild might provide information and secret escape routes after the PCs help one of their members escape the noose.
Supernatural Boons. Supernatural creatures might grant some of their power to deserving adventurers. This could replicate the benefit of a magic item that does not require attunement or provide the use of a spell. Perhaps the merfolk priestess that the party saves grants them a blessing that allows them to swim and breathe underwater (as per a cloak of the manta ray).
Treasure. Treasure covers artwork, coins, gems, and jewelry, as well as magic items.