Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How I learned to stop worrying and love quest based XP.

Quest based XP is a new concept in Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition.  The concept is simple: The players will acquire certain quest cards from the DM.  Some cards may be related to the character's back story (e.g., "I must kill the one-eyed dwarf who took advantage of my sister").  Some cards will be based off of interaction with NPCs (e.g., "The elders of Barrow's Edge want us to put an end to the goblin menace").  Some quest cards may even be treasure (e.g., "Look, this map says there is great treasure in some place called 'The Tomb of Horrors'.  How bad could it be?").

When I first heard about the concept, I have to admit I didn't like it.  Handled poorly, I can see quest cards turning D&D into a game of Oblivion where PC's talk to random NPC's until they get a quest, then they quickly run off and do the quest.  Nevertheless, handled well I believe quest based XP can enhance the game.

One good thing I can see coming out of quest based XP is its potential to bring details of the player character's backgrounds into the game.  Too many times I have seen players write up backgrounds for their characters that never come up during gameplay.  Having a couple of quest cards lying around related to the character's background gives the player an incentive to bring it up during the game.

Quest cards might also encourage adventures that don't involve killing every creature in the dungeon.  Here is an example of an actual conversation with one of my players:

Player: "If you sneak past or talk to the monsters, you don't get XP for them."

Me: "That's not necessarily true.  I usually give half XP for bypassed monsters and give bonus XP for creative solutions to problems"

Player: "But then how much XP you give out is up to you.  I would rather kill the monsters because the book specifically lists how much XP you get.

I chose not to tell him I rarely paid strict attention to Challenge Ratings and often "winged it" when assigning XP at the end of the adventure.  However, this is a case where quest cards might have helped out.  A quest card that said "Steal the the king's ruby without alerting the palace guards" would encourage stealth.  Or a lot of assassinations.  In any case it would discourage charging the gate.

In the end, I guess I came to realize quest cards are just another tool in the DM's arsenal.  Misused, they have the potential to screw up a game.  But used properly they can enhance the D&D experience.

Plus, I like playing Oblivion, don't you?


Scafloc said...

The real issue I have here is the same one that I always had before... the propensity of certain agressive players to far outstrip their brethren. This XP system hasn't addressed that issue as far as I know. One character could easily become well advanced from another by having a more active role in the game. Yes, I know that active participation is desired... and yes, I agree that creativity and good play should be rewarded. I just feel that the whole concept of "XP" as it is is very flawed. I much prefer a system which would allow advancement more or less across the board evenly, but which would allow for *temporary* bonuses as a reward for such things. Perhaps every card that is issued by the DM could have similar cards for other players. "kill the one eye'd dwarf that murdered your family" could be mated with a "help your comrade extract his revenge" card. Any other thoughts?

Bronz said...

In my view you would take the quest cards and apply the actual xp to the whole group.

To take the example above a bit further, a character gets a quest card to kill/capture the one eyed dwarf that maimed his family. Eventually this happens, and the quest card is turned in. Everyone in the group then gets the reward.

The quest itself maybe based in a specific character's background, but the reward is universal.

The cards, in my view, just act like quest trackers ala MMO's. It's actually a fairly decent tool when you think about it as it reminds both the players and the DM about active or pursuant quests.

Scafloc said...

That is a totally reasonable way to do it Mike, just not one that I think WotC has in mind. It also leaves unadressed the concept of rewarding individual creativity... but to groups like ours that is secondary at best.

Bronz said...

Guess it just comes down to what first the official rules say and then what is actually used or house ruled.

We'll find out in June.

Medraut said...

Todd, I have to disagree with your point. I think the issue you are seeing is inherit to the D&D (and almost any other) XP system, rather than the concept of quest based rewards.

I'm not going to talk about it too much here though. I have enough to say on the subject that it will probably get its own post.