Anyone who's been following my blog for a while knows I looooove to over-think things like treasure and XP!
So anyway, I really enjoy the idea of a 'XP budget' for when designing specific encounters. For random encounters and more story-driven situations I'll just roll with what makes sense and with what's given as treasure for specific creatures, but when I'm planning a dungeon, it's all about the XP Budget.
I was first introduced to the notion via Pathfinder, and I have to say the set XP for monsters and notion of a XP budget made a lot more sense to me than the way previous 3.5 incarnations handled it. (Not to mention it was way easier!)
Now that I run an OSR game, the way I do it is all about having every single thing that gives you XP be a bit different from the other, each with their advantage and disadvantage. In other words, keeping a balance of sorts. So yeah, this is how I do it:
- Monsters and Traps: Yep, I give XP for traps too! I follow the guidelines from Machinations of the Space Princess for those. Anyway, these two are very similar. You face an immediate danger but you also get the XP right away once (if?) you overcome that danger.
- Magic Items: They are an advantage in itself, but they do come with some disadvantages that make them legit XP rewards. The first is that they have to be recognized as such or be left behind and thus its potential XP is lost. You saw a normal-looking longsword and figured you didn't need it, not knowing it was a +5 longsword of god-slaying? Tough. There's also the fact that monsters might actually use that stuff on the players first! What better way to earn a magic item than facing its power before you can own it? Finally, the way I handle it is that it's XP that cannot be shared. That last one I was unsure of for a bit but decided that owning a magic item in Fantasy always seems like a very personal thing. So there's possible dissent in a group also being a disadvantage as a reward, in a weird way.
- Treasure: Unless next to a monster and/or a trap, treasure is simply grabbing it and making XP! In a way it can be the easiest way to make XP... If you've prepared for it! Didn't bring with you a cart to transport that treasure through the forest? Tough! You're ambushed by thieves and have your goods stolen before you reach a civilized area? You don't earn XP from treasure. Treasure XP is XP that could potentially be lost at any moment during the way back home. Random encounters become all the more stressful!
- Good RP and Accomplishing Goals: Accomplishing goals should be its own reward, sure, but it feels proper for some reason to give a bit of extra XP for a long-term goal accomplished. I don't mean just finishing a dungeon run, but rather for something that is relevant and important to the campaign. There's no real disadvantage there, I'll admit, but it does encourage players to get involved with the setting. Same thing for good RP, although I guess the disadvantage is that I won't shy away from docking XP from a player being disruptive to the game. (I've warned one in the past but thankfully the message was clearly heard.)