Thursday, 3 January 2013

Pirate Experience

XP Systems

So, games can help shape character goals by their Experience System.  Many players are keen on getting their characters to level-up and experience is the achieve that goal.  Experience for monsters defeated and treasure won, is encouraging characters to hack and slash their way to glory, at the exclusion of other potential goals.

A different twist on "Monsters Defeated" is to define victory more expansively.  This can encourage more thoughtful play.  For instance, if rather than killing the entire goblin tribe, we simply convince them to attack a different village, rather than the one we're defending, that might be counted as defeating them for XP award purposes.

Dungeon Crawl Classics encourages much more furtive play, by awarding XP for "Encounters Survived".  So even if the party encounters enemies they could beat, it might be worth it for them to come to a non-violent understanding, so as not to deplete their resources.

Similarly, there is the twist on "Treasure Won".  Some DMs only award for Treasure Spent.  This in-turn, encourages adventures to live large and spend their gold like scoundrels.

Finally there are systems which award XP based on roleplaying.  Like giving double awards for a knight who jousts and opponent, or a thief who steals things.

Pirate XP

So this raises the question: How should XP be awarded for a Pirate Sandbox game?

My answer: XP is only awarded on a boat!

That's right.  Going to explore a dungeon?  Combats will only gain you 1/2 XP while you're not on a boat.  Similarly, treasure XP will only be counted once you haul it back to your ship.

This should encourage PCs to play as mariners, rather than reverting to a bunch of landlubbers with occasional boat-rides.


  1. I like how this puts a focus on the game. To expand the pirate theme a little, burying treasure could be awarded, too (maybe with a little extra for traps build to protect it and treasure maps to find it again). That and more carousing.

    Would the players be encouraged to get an island as a base of operations? Maybe with name level?

    1. Those are good ideas. I like the idea of carousing XP. That said, some activities need XP as a motivator, others could simply flow naturally from play.

      For instance, a base of operations might be something the players choose to have for in-game reasons. Like once the law gets on their tail and they can no longer safely come to major ports without a fight. Then they may want to start a base where they can stockpile supplies, etc.

      As for maps to buried treasure, you could give an XP incentive, like double XP for any treasure buried. But I had another idea: if a character dies, you have to make a new character with minimal equipment, UNLESS they buried some of their wealth and left a map. In that case, the new PC is assumed to have found the map and thus inherited the stash. Sort of a pirate twist on the practice of rolling-up a new PC who is the heir to the dead PC...

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  3. Dammit, lost my blog comment...

    Nice turn with the treasure :) "Boasting about hidden treasure" could be something that might happen during carousing and for new PCs, to find the treasure is the initiation to join the crew...

    The way you arranged character creation is also ideal for exactly that as some kind of intro-adventure: level zero wannabe-pirates on a treasure hunt. Equipment and occupations will be given/chosen during the adventure and at the end they are fully fleshed out characters and level 1. Didn't DCC do something like that?

    Anyway, your saltbox sounds like fun!

    1. Yeah, I guess I'm going for an adventure with some petty miscreants who will likely turn to pirating since they don't have a better choice.

      I think you could start it with either 1st level characters who have both an occupation and an adventuring class, OR do the DCC funnel. I think that for me it would probably depend on the number of players I have--a smaller group might prefer the funnel since it could leave them with more potential crew-members to man a ship.