Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Experience (Minus the Murder)...

Killing monsters and taking their stuff; what could be more old-school than that?  But isn't violence just a way of mitigating the threat monsters represent?  And if that's the case, shouldn't we be rewarding clever players for mitigating the risk of violence as well; because fighting adds insult to injury (so to speak).  From turning on the charm and schmoozing a potential enemy to leading them on a heroic chase only to escape down a back alley, timely mitigation is a learning curve that maybe deserves experience points... 

So first off, players should only get experience for active mitigation; basically, anything requiring planning and skillful execution.  Negotiation (including bribes) falls into this category, along with active efforts to distract or defang an enemy.  Simply spying on monsters and deciding not to engage doesn't cut it; there needs to be an actual plan requiring some active execution on the part of the group.  This is the heart and soul of old-school gaming, with its emphasis on personal decision-making and problem solving:

Killing a monster nets its full experience point value because it's the riskier option; but a clever party can earn a percentage of this for non-violent solutions as follows:

BRIBERY nets 25% of a monster's experience point value plus 1 experience point per 10 gold pieces (or equal value) parted with.  Victory always has its price.

EVASION awards 50% of total experience when a monster is aware of the party and the characters assume great personal risk.  Avoiding passive enemies nets none.

TRAPS are another matter.  Some rulesets grant experience for disarming these; and the decision to award advancement lies outside the scope of this posting.

Using Holmes Basic (the only book handy at the moment), successfully bribing an ogre with 500 gp would net 31 or 25% of the giant's listed value plus 50 (500 gp/10) for a total of 81, assuming combat is otherwise inevitable.  Causing the ogre to give chase only to lose it in a nearby maze would net 62 experience or 50% of the monster's value; again, assuming the ogre would catch someone if the attempt failed - and that this was always the plan.

The above isn't perfect; but it's passable.  And it lays the foundation for even better systems for rewarding a clever party.  Old-school is killing; but it can be much more.

Some DMs think avoiding a dangerous encounter is its own reward.  They could be right, obviously; it really depends on the tone of their campaign.  But if old-school gaming is really about good strategy and tactics, it might be appropriate to reward a group with something extra for their cleverness, especially when in service to an overarching plan.  Nothing should beat gold and kills; but this might be a good way to encourage the sort of behavior we old-school enthusiasts admire.  Anyway, we'd love to hear how you handle this stuff...


  1. I thought that the OSR consensus was to award XP for gold and not for killing/defeating monsters, thus avoiding this entire problem. The treasure is the reward; the monsters are only obstacles in the way of the reward. How you overcome the obstacle (killing, capturing, charming, deceiving, evading, bribing) doesn't matter to the XP awarded.

    1. Traditionally, you got experience for both; but what you propose is certainly a viable (and challenging) option...

  2. Interesting concepts! I'm wondering if the cost of the bribery should be subtracted from the 25% xp to reward the players that are shrewd bargainers. Though I could see being extorted out much of your hard earned (stolen) gold being a real learning experience that would stick with a character.

  3. I'm with you when you say that "old school is much more."

    My house rule is not to use XP at all!

    If one is using them, I am all in favor of awarding XP for defeating threats without killing them.

    For the "rules as written" old-schoolers, I wonder whether they would deduct XP totals for treasure spent bribing monsters. Depending on the XP value of the monster, it could be a losing proposition.

    Old-school games like T&T gave XP for daring (levels of the dungeon descended), saving throws, and other successes. There were lots of genuinely old-time ways to handle experience, despite what many OSR gamers seem to think.

    It's a question whether PCs should get XP for lucky dice rolls! "Good job, you rolled well. Now you get XP."

    1. Great inputs! Interestingly, I've never encountered the experience for gold only paradigm; and I've been playing since 1978...

  4. The reward for bribing/escaping/begging for mercy from a dangerous encounter is your lives. That's valuable! The reward for evading/murdering a dangerous encounter is the treasure they had. That's valuable! The reward for murdering a non-dangerous encounter is nothing. Why would you kill them when you could recruit them? The real treasure are the friends we manipulate into fighting for us along the way!

  5. Hi James. I'm a great fan of your work, and I'm thinking on distillating some ruleset from the collected Pits and Perils. My idea is to literally photocopy my book, and make a collage by rearranging words and woodcuts, into something that I intend to be also usable. I'll probably do it just as a personal project, but would you approve if I shared the result on the net afterwards? I don't want to sell it or anything, just make good games.

    Also man, I gotta say that your re-visioning of the History of the Norden Peoples into RPG art is the total top shit I've ever seen in any RPG book ever. Though I probably couldn't run the book RAW, without tweaking rules to my liking, its the most inspiring ruleset i've ever put my hands on.

    1. Thank you for the kind words! It means a lot to know you've been inspired; you have no idea how much. Now as for your little project...

      (1) We're fine with it being for personal use.

      (2) Photocopying text from a copyrighted work for redistribution is copyright violation, so we ask you not to do this. Using YOUR OWN words is different.

      (3) We grant an OPEN SUPPLEMENT LICENSE (OSL) which allows you to publish materials for P&P, including for sale! Visit our website and click on the Open Licenses tab to find out more. The community could use you...

      Once again, thank you so much for your kind words. The game was meant to be house ruled. Even we don’t play it as written, and we wrote the thing!

      Also, if you want all the Magnus art, visit here: