My powerfully-human way of getting players off the Kill-For-XP Track

A Roleplaying Tips GM wrote in with this problem:

Johnn. My players are all about the XP! “If I can’t get XP for it, there’s no point.” Short of “I’ll give you XP if you can tell me what this quest is about” I haven’t figured out a way to get them off the “XP or nothing” track.

I posed the question to the GM Tips Community. Below are a few of the ideas, and at the end is my recommendation.

Give out per-session XP

Figure out how many XP the PCs need for next level. Divide by the number of sessions you want to play before level-up. Give out that award plus or minus based on how well gameplay went.

For example, if the PCs need 1,000 XP for next level, and you want to play five sessions each level, then the per-session XP budget is 200 per PC.

Hack the System

Make it so XP doesn’t just come from combat. In the oldest versions of D&D, you received XP for gold pieces brought back to town. It didn’t matter if you came by that treasure via combat, roleplay, or trickery. One gold was one XP.

That was a nice and simple system, probably best suited for sword & sorcery or gritty style fantasy. It sure made dungeon design easy though. Just figure out how many XP you wanted a dungeon to be worth, and sprinkle that amount throughout.

Character Development Arcs

Tack on story and roleplaying XP bonuses. Give each character a side plot or key role in the main plot. Make that role explicit. Give XP out as the PC takes steps towards that goal.

Introduce Other Character Rewards

My mantra is you can never have enough NPCs in your campaign. Make contacts and relationships with NPCs not only a bucket of fried fun, but rewarding to gameplay too.

Plots of land, favours owed, strange artefacts, statues named after them…

Here are more rewards ideas in this old supplemental issue about alternative rewards and this one on minor rewards.

My Preference Story

Humans are hard-wired for story. It’s how we understand the world, communicate, and remember things. Tell a person the beginning of a great story and they MUST find out how it ends else it’ll gnaw.

My formula for this as part of the Faster Combat GMing course is to double the story in half the time. Meaning, add story to your combats and make your combats run twice as fast.

This gives you a few major advantages.

It puts your game into overdrive. You’re not pulling the rug out from under your players. You’re giving them MORE of what they want, as fast as they handle it, and they’ll be having the best times of their lives.

It sates their need for XP. When XP becomes anemic from long, grinding combats, your players will keep attacking stuff just so they squeeze out the most advancement they can each session. But when they see XP comes not at the price of length of gameplay, but from cleverness, imagination, and story advancement, they’ll become much more strategic.

It lures them in with story until it becomes more important to find out what happens next than it does clobbering XP out of things. Once hooked, invested, and participating in your story, XP will take second seat to our natural wiring of having to see how it all turns out. Story is king when done right.

So start making your combats more efficient and start infusing more plot into your fights immediately. Do this and every has more fun at every game.

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