Tuesday, February 22, 2011

AD&D - XP for magic items

I've had a mental back and forth for a few days on the subject of XP for magic items. By the book AD&D Dungeon Master Guide says:
(Those magic items not sold gain only a relatively small amount of experience points, for their value is in their usage.)
Well, this is all well and good, but let's look at an example - a wand of magic missiles. Now while acquiring this wand spanned multiple games, got people really excited and has resulted in some hilarious "off line" emails in how they tested it to figure out how it works, but the DMG says this sucker is worth 35,000 gold pieces and 4,000 experience points.

Uh, woah.

Now I know, BTB is BTB and for my campaign, not always applicable, but I'd like chew on this a bit here. Based on those values, I can say that the XP value for this item is roughly an eighth and a half of it's value. That's not a formula that follows in the XP/gold value ratios for other items. It seems there's a relative value based on the difficulty of making the item, but that is still a huge jump.

Now, for wands, there is an interesting note that says "Assumes full charges are in the item", which I'm not quite sure how that would affect XP, unless they are ranking the value's "worth" and XP on how many times this lil stick is gonna pop a monster for 1d4+1 (twice a round too!) OK, so the max charges are 100, so lessee... that's about 40 XP per charge and 350 gold per charge. While I can understand the cost, given it takes a 6th level spell enchant an item which can be cast only by a 12th level wizard or higher, and requires a crap-load of components to make, for a 90 charge wand (on average) that's 3,600 XP. So some first level wizard who was on a quest and participated in finding this magic item and somehow gets to keep it is going to now be 2nd level just for holding Fizbin's thingie. Same with 2nd level - it's an automatic upgrade.

Is this how AD&D balances things - mages usually get the magic items, so because they need more XP, they get more powerful by dint of finding the magic cookies? Am I just being stingy with the concept in my head?

I'm leaning towards thinking that I'm going to go BTB for several reasons. Mages are already on fragile grounds, unless they're doing double-duty as a multi-classed demihuman. The human mage is still 2nd level, but close to third, if I remember correctly. I also go back to the eXPloration justification - if a fresh/newly minted first level character picked up a wand of magic missiles, should they get 3,600 XP for a wand of magic missiles? Should that bump them to 2nd level?

Given that magic is so rare in my game, yes. I think I don't have a problem with that. The players are slowly beginning to find stuff, but not anything near what most people might expect in a D&D game. I want magic to be mysterious and cool and valued when found. To me, XP isn't just about a person's own ability, it's also about their standing in the world, their ability to do things and their overall "power" that comes with the stuff they carry about. Heroes in Chainmail were powerful in many ways, not just because they'd crossed swords with hundreds of orcs.

Side note - It's a testament to one of my player's tenacity that as an elf fighter/mage, he's hit 3rd level in each. If he'd been in one or the other as a human, he'd probably be the most powerful character. Of course, he's coming to almost every game.


Tenkar said...

"assume full charges"

I don't recall any wands having more then a handful of charges when found in the old TSR modules. Assuming a 1st level Mage finds a wand of magic missiles with 20 charges, prorated thar is still 800 expo (and a nice amount of expo at lower levels).

That's how I did it as a GM. Not sure if that was Gary's intent or not.

Beedo said...

I would add the magic XP to the party's total so the entire group gets a slice (after a quick consult with the DMG, I can see that was likely a misinterpretation / house rule).

If I went back to the BTB approach, my concern would be practical. Magic items are already a fantastic reward; an auto-level (in the case of the wand) could breed a lot of disharmony at the table if there are multiple potential owners. Does your group have a rational way of determing item ownership? I've always had "that guy" at the table that needs every item.

-C said...

I'm fairly certain they get the XP for the gold value if it is sold, and only receive the XP for the item a little at a time.

I may be misremembering from Hackmaster, but I think it's 1/10th the experience of the item per week that the item is used for 10 weeks.

Jeff Rients said...

In my opinion the XP and gold values of AD&D only make sense when the training rules are used.

Ethan said...

My thoughts echo Beedo's, for the most part.

The real problem is going to appear when the rest of the group realizes that by giving the mage the wand they've bumped him up another level.

(Which, if you consider the "good of the party" isn't really a bad thing, but not everyone will see it that way.)

Also, with a scarcity of magic items (I like that concept - can't stand that players submit a wish list of magic items to the GM and those items start showing up as reward/treasure items in the two 4e PbP games I follow...), "fair division" of treasure becomes a problem.

"The mage gets a wand valued at 25,000 gp and the rest of us split up 87 gp, 320 sp, and a horse's weight in cp? So what's he going to live on for the next two years, 'cause he's giving up his share of the treasure for at least that long!"

Adding the XP to the party's total solves half that problem (though I have seen GMs play it out the other way with positive results often enough - you just have to have a friendly group of people with the right amount of laissez faire), but how do you avoid the situation where most of the party sits around a table of food in the finest inn seven days a week while the mage stays in the stables, chewing on stale bread and drinking water from the trough while cradling his magical wand?

Anonymous said...

1: Do you give GP value of treasure as 1 GP = 1 XP when they haul it back to town?

2: Do you make them pay for training (1,500 x current level as I recall)?

#1 and magic item XP go hand in hand. If you don't give treasure XP then you shouldn't give magic item XP since it's the same rule.

Jrients has it for #2, the game goes wonky if you don't use the training costs. But the game is kind of wonky with training costs, if you also use the XP value for found treasure. For example, it takes a Thief 1,250 XP to go to level 2 but he needs 1,500 GP to do it. This means he is guaranteed to have enough XP before he has enough money to go up, not even counting monster XP.

A third point someone brought up, I don't remember any rule about how you have to get the magic item keep XP over the course of 10 weeks or anything like that. My assumption was that you'd get the item XPV if you claimed it, whether you'd later sell it or not. An item going from one player to another would never grant an XPV because you assume someone else already "squeezed" it. And if it's ever sold, you gain the GP sale value in XP minus the XPV for the item, again assuming that someone in the gruop already got that. In practice, we just said if you sold the item you got the item XPV and we generally didn't give XP for found gold. We did use training fees, but in some games reduced those fees down to hundreds of gold rather than thousands.

Captcha: retrocks

Anthony said...

Don't confuse AD&D's levels and advancement schemes at lower levels as compared to higher levels. I think it is an absolutely awesome quirk that one big haul or find can bump people up an entire level when already at a lower level. That uncertainty and unpredictability makes the 'advancement game' much more exciting and less of a grind (reference CRPGs and MMOs today).

Alan said...

A 3rd Level Elven Ftr/MU?!?! Color me impressed (said the 1st Level Half-Elven Ftr/MU)!

ChicagoWiz said...

Wow - a lot of comments here!

@Tenkar - BtB DMG says: "Wands 100charges minus O to 19(d20-1)" So theoretically, my mage could end up with that 3600 XP. Pretty big chunk there.

@Beedo - I never awarded XP for magic items period until I started really digging into the DMG again. I can see why I would have avoided it back in the day.

I'm not as worried about the jump for one particular guy, especially at lower levels where the mage tends to feel/be out-gunned. I have a feeling that the XP was planned so that the mages could get up in levels in a hurry. Plus it can take time to figure out those items! I play Identify really damn strict and I do make my players experiment with items to figure them out.

My group has been lucky that the social contract of "be fair" has been kept. It's only been a problem once and that person proved troublesome enough that he was not invited back to my table.

@C - that's not something I've read in stock AD&D - it might be HM.

@Jeff - ugh. I hate the training rules. I do bleed gold from the players on a regular basis - cost of living, taxes, hirelings, silver weapons are hellaciously expensive, it costs 100gp/level to make scrolls or copy spells into spell books.

Being's that I'm the "game theory idiot" why do you say it makes sense on in the context of using training rules?

@Ethan - given that the "bump" occurs only at low levels, I don't think my group has a problem with that. Most of them value progression and the magic items are so rare that it makes some sense that they would give an extra push. I've never heard any grumbling otherwise. My players haven't done that sort of calculation, and I have a feeling that if someone were like that at my table, they probably would not like my game period. I'm not sure I'd want to game with them.

@1d30: 1. Yes. 2. Hell no.

@Anthony - I think you and I see it the same way.

@Alan - well, in game terms, you guys have played barely a season. Bryan's character is about 2 years into gaming, with almost 2 years campaign time.

Guy Fullerton said...

Careful with the notion of BTB magic items. BTB treasure is *not* necessarily slavish use of and adherence to the random treasure tables.

In fact, the DMG assumes *you* pick most of the treasures in many/most instances, customizing things as you desire. See pages 91-93, including a one point on page 93 where Gygax mentions radically limiting the number of charges in a wand.

The treasure tables are just a tool to help you pick stuff (i.e., inspire you), and it's relevant that they come *after* the prose sections that give practical guidance on & philosophy for treasure determination. Let the prose guide you, and don't feel like you need to adhere to your random rolls in order for it to count as "BTB" because strict adherence to the random rolls *isn't* BTB.

That said, there's nothing inherently wrong with a low-level character doing well enough to find a well-charged wand of magic missiles, and getting commensurate xp. (Ditto for something like plate mail +5, which has roughly equivalent xp & gp values.) That *doesn't* mean they go up in level right away (and they can't rise their xp enough to qualify for two full levels) ... they still need to acquire enough cash to afford training. There's no such thing as a free lunch.

ChicagoWiz said...

@Guy - I'll never be confused as a guy who is slavishly BtB - my game is definitely AD&D lite, but I do enjoy going back to the rules to get inspiration.

Speaking of BtB, I definitely do not do training costs. I bleed them slowly and painfully, not all at once. :D

Mouse said...

I always use 'Add the XP to the party total' rather than giving XP to the individual.

All players participate in acquiring magic items so should be rewarded as such.

Just as with combat XP, it doesn't matter who dealt the killing blow, everyone participated so everyone gains XP.

The item itself is a big reward for a player. Throwing on the full load of XP too deprives other players from benefiting from their own hard work.

I know that as a player I would be less gracious about passing on magic items if they were handled that way.

ChicagoWiz said...

@Mouse - perhaps my players share nicely, knowing what comes around, goes around? Dunno. I think that the players trust each other and have a good feel for what's best for them as a group.

Other deep holes are situations like the thief gets the XP for the gold he/she can steal. Do you award that XP to everyone or the thief? I give it to the thief.

I think if you count your XP as the key thing that really drives you, versus having a good game, then my way of DM'ing is probably not going to be a good match to your way of playing. That's OK, we'd not play together and I'm cool with that.

D&D/Life is not fair and the way D&D balances it out in the long run might not promote fairness in the short term. What I like about my group is they don't get caught up in everything having to be equal, but equitable - they understand that long term balance. That's a good approach that works well at my table.

Mouse said...

This has little to do with what drives players.

If you think about it, pretty much all XP is shared evenly during a gaming session. Whether it's combat XP, quest completion XP, treasure XP or exploration XP it's all shared.

And I believe it should be. D&D is a cooperative game where everyone contributes to the outcome regardless of their role.

Why do you feel magic items should not be treated the same as other XP?

ChicagoWiz said...

@Mouse - from my perspective, it has everything to do with what drives players.

Not all XP is shared, in the case of the thief, in the case of someone who is "out of the fight" due to coma, death or separated from the party, or in the case of magic items.

D&D is a cooperative game where everyone contributes to the outcome regardless of their role.

Cooperative does not mean it has to be exactly equal. Why do you think it must be? I would submit that is your preference, but for other groups that both trust and have good experiences with their DM in an *equitable* fashion, this need for equal shares is not necessary.

Why do you feel magic items should not be treated the same as other XP?

For the reasons I've already outlined. As well, for the reasons that the players are quite capable of managing themselves, their wants/desires and so far, they've managed quite capably to make the magic "spread" equitable. They will each get their XP, but in time when they each get something, not all at once.

Why is that so bad?

Mouse said...

I guess the difference is that I view magic items as loot. Loot and it's XP are shared regardless of whether or not a character is knocked unconscious in a battle.

You view magic items as something different and special and handle them separately.

To address the original point or you post, I doubt that the game designers created the advancement tables with Magic item XP in mind. They seem geared toward the relative power of each class. For example, look at the Elf in OD&D.

ChicagoWiz said...

@Mouse - OD&D did not award XP for magic items, so the tables would not support it and there's no point in looking at them for proof one way or the other. Nor, for that matter, do the tables in AD&D reflect anything related to XP for magic items to the owner, but I don't think they would.

AD&D wasn't about "equality" and "uber balance." I think that the XP award was given based on the scarcity and power of such items and the fact that the writers' experiences were similar to my own, that groups will self-police themselves and people who want to play "gimme/gimme" because they believe in their own advancement over others wouldn't be long in the group. The more I've discussed this, the more I've come to like the idea and think it represents a neat "bennie" along with possession of the item itself. It also serves as a way for negotiating gold vs. item - although in the extreme example given earlier of a mage eating in a stable cold and huddled clutching his new wand is a fallacy. If I were in a group that the players were that grasping, I wouldn't DM for it, nor would I play in it.